Sources of microbial pathogens in municipal solid waste landfills in the United States of America

Charles P. Gerba, Akrum H. Tamimi, Charles Pettigrew, Anne V. Weisbrod, Vijay Rajagopalan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Municipal solid waste (MSW) categories, as specified by United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), were evaluated for their relative contribution of pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and protozoan parasites into MSW landfills from 1960 to 2007. The purpose of this study was to identify trends and quantify the potential contribution of pathogens in MSW as an aid to the assessment of potential public health risks. A review of the literature was conducted to estimate values for the concentrations of faecal indicator bacteria and pathogens in the major categories of MSW. The major sources of MSW contributing enteric pathogens were food waste, pet faeces, absorbent products, and biosolids. During the last 47 years, recycling of glass, metals, plastic, paper and some organic wastes in MSW has increased, resulting in a decreased proportion of these materials in the total landfilled MSW. The relative proportion of remaining waste materials has increased; several of these waste categories contain pathogens. For all potential sources, food waste contributes the greatest number of faecal coliforms (80.62%). The largest contribution of salmonellae (97.27%), human enteroviruses (94.88%) and protozoan parasites (97%) are expected to come from pet faeces. Biosolids from wastewater treatment sludge contribute the greatest number of human noroviruses (99.94%). By comparison, absorbent hygiene products do not appear to contribute significantly to overall pathogen loading for any group of pathogens. This is largely due to the relatively low volume of these pathogen sources in MSW, compared, for example, with food waste at almost 40% of total MSW.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)781-790
Number of pages10
JournalWaste Management and Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Solid waste
  • absorbent products
  • baby napkins
  • biosolids
  • food scraps
  • parasites
  • pathogens
  • pet faeces
  • salmonellae
  • viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Pollution


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