Evaluating the efficiency of advanced wastewater treatment: target analysis of organic contaminants and (geno-)toxicity assessment tell a different story

Axel Magdeburg, Daniel Stalter, Michael Schlüsener, Thomas Ternes, Jörg Oehlmann
Water Research 2014 March 1, 50: 35-47
At a pilot scale wastewater treatment plant ozonation and powdered activated carbon filtration were assessed for their efficacy to remove trace organic contaminants from secondary treated effluents. A chemical analysis of 16 organic compounds was accompanied by a comprehensive suite of in vitro and in vivo bioassays with the focus on genotoxicity to account for the potential formation of reactive oxidation products. In vitro experiments were performed with solid phase extracted water samples, in vivo experiments with native wastewater in a flow through test system on site at the treatment plant. The chemical evaluation revealed an efficient oxidation of about half of the selected compounds by more than 90% at an ozone dose of 0.7 g/g DOC. A lower oxidizing efficiency was observed for the iodinated X-ray contrast media (49-55%). Activated carbon treatment (20 mg/L) was less effective for the removal of most pharmaceuticals monitored. The umuC assay on genotoxicity delivered results with about 90% decrease of the effects by ozonation and slightly lower efficiency for PAC treatment. However, the Ames test on mutagenicity with the strain YG7108 revealed a consistent and ozone-dose dependent increase of mutagenicity after wastewater ozonation compared to secondary treatment. Sand filtration as post treatment step reduced the ozone induced mutagenicity only partly. Also the fish early life stage toxicity test revealed an increase in mortality after ozonation and a reduced effect after sand filtration. Only activated carbon treatment reduced the fish mortality compared to conventional treatment on control level. Likewise the in vivo genotoxicity detected with the comet assay using fish erythrocytes confirmed an increased (geno-)toxicity after ozonation, an effect decrease after sand-filtration and no toxic effects after activated carbon treatment. This study demonstrates the need for a cautious selection of methods for the evaluation of advanced (oxidative) treatment technologies and of the effectiveness of post-treatments for elimination of adverse effects caused by oxidative treatments case by case.

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