This paper deals with a detailed study on the occurrence and fate of heavy metals (plus As, Fe and Al) in five Italian large wastewater treatment plants treating municipal and industrial wastewaters. The study showed that some of the compounds (As, Hg and Cd) were present at trace levels, while others were dispersed in a broad range of concentrations and were sometimes under the detection limit. The occurrence followed the order Hg = As < Hg < Pb < Ni < Cu < Cr < Fe < Zn < Al. Metals were mainly present bound to particulate organic matter in municipal wastewaters while they were often present in soluble phase in industrial wastewaters. Some heavy metals, like Hg and Pb, showed clear correlations with Al and Fe, therefore the last could be used as control parameters. Metals were removed with good efficiency in the treatment works, with the order As < Cd = Cr = Zn < Pb < Hg < Ni = Al < Cu < Fe. Metals then concentrated in waste activated sludge and accumulated after sludge stabilisation because of volatile solids degradation, therefore some problems may arise with limit for agricultural application, in particular for Hg, Cd and Ni.

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