Sludge stabilisation and mineralisation during periods of operation between 10 and 21 years were investigated in three different systems receiving sludge from urban wastewater treatment plants situated in Denmark. Samples were taken along the entire profiles, in order to compare the effectiveness of the sludge stabilisation process. Particular attention was given to the stabilisation process occurring within the reed beds; in fact, parameters correlated to biochemical properties of organic sludge matter were determined. Statistical procedures were used to evaluate how the biochemical processes influence the quality of sludge organic matter. The level of total organic carbon and total nitrogen had a similar trend along the profile: their concentration decreased with increasing depth, reaching very low levels at the deepest layers. The same trend was also observed for the water-soluble carbon, N-NH3, β-glucosidase and urease activities, and hydrolytic enzymes linked to C and N cycles: their values decreased dramatically with increasing depth, meaning that the level of mineralisation of the organic matter was higher in the deepest layers. The determination of extracellular enzymes bound to humic substances and humic carbon permitted evaluation of the stabilisation of organic sludge matter, and also allowed individuation of the ways in which the sludge was stabilised, in terms of mineralisation and humification of the organic matter.

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