This study investigates the prevailing physico-chemical conditions and microbial community; mesophilic bacteria, yeasts and filamentous fungi, bacterial spores, Salmonella and Shigella as well as faecal indicator bacteria: total coliforms, faecal coliforms and faecal Streptococci, present in a compost of municipal solid waste. Investigations were conducted in a semi-industrial pilot plant using a moderate aeration during the composting process. Our results showed that: (i) auto-sterilization induced by relatively high temperatures (60-55°C) caused a significant change in bacterial communities. For instance, Escherichia coli and faecal Streptococci populations decreased, respectively, from 2 × 107to 3.1 × 103and 107to 1.5 × 103cells/g waste dry weight (WDW); yeasts and filamentous fungi decreased from 4.5 × 106to 2.6 × 103cells/g WDW and mesophilic bacteria were reduced from 5.8 × 109to 1.8 × 107bacteria/g WDW. On the other hand, the number of bacterial spores increased at the beginning of the composting process, but after the third week their number decreased notably; (ii) Salmonella disappeared completely from compost by the 25th day as soon as the temperature reached 60°C; and (iii) the bacterial population increased gradually during the cooling phase. While Staphylococci seemed to be the dominant bacteria during the mesophilic phase and at the beginning of the thermophilic phase, bacilli predominated during the remainder of the composting cycle. The appearance of gram-negative rods (opportunistic pathogens) during the cooling phase may represent a serious risk for the sanitary quality of the finished product intended for agronomic reuse. Compost sonication for about 3 min induced the inactivation of delicate bacteria, in particular gram-negatives. By contrast, gram-positive bacteria, especially micrococcus, spores of bacilli, and fungal propagules survived, and reached high concentrations in the compost. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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