A range of wastes representative of materials currently applied, or with future potential to be applied, to agricultural land in the UK as fertilisers and soil improvers or used as animal bedding in livestock production, were investigated. In addition to full physico-chemical characterization, the materials were analysed for a suite of priority organic contaminants. In general, contaminants were present at relatively low concentrations. For example, for biosolids and compost-like-output (CLO), concentrations of polychlorinated dibenzo-p
-dioxins/dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were approximately 1−10 and 5–50 times lower, respectively, than various proposed or implemented European limit values for these contaminants in biosolids or composts applied to agricultural land. However, the technical basis for these limits may require re-evaluation in some cases. Polybrominated, and mixed halogenated, dibenzo-p
-dioxins/dibenzofurans are not currently considered in risk assessments of dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals, but were detected at relatively high concentrations compared with PCDD/Fs in the biosolids and CLOs and their potential contribution to the overall toxic equivalency is assessed. Other ‘emerging’ contaminants, such as organophosphate flame retardants, were detected in several of the waste materials, and their potential significance is discussed. The study is part of a wider research programme that will provide evidence that is expected to improve confidence in the use of waste-derived materials in agriculture and to establish guidelines to protect the food chain where necessary.
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