Biofiltration vs conventional activated sludge plants: what about priority and emerging pollutants removal?

R Mailler, J Gasperi, V Rocher, S Gilbert-Pawlik, D Geara-Matta, R Moilleron, G Chebbo
Environmental Science and Pollution Research International 2014, 21 (8): 5379-90
This paper compares the removal performances of two complete wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) for all priority substances listed in the Water Framework Directive and additional compounds of interest including flame retardants, surfactants, pesticides, and personal care products (PCPs) (n = 104). First, primary treatments such as physicochemical lamellar settling (PCLS) and primary settling (PS) are compared. Similarly, biofiltration (BF) and conventional activated sludge (CAS) are then examined. Finally, the removal efficiency per unit of nitrogen removed of both WWTPs for micropollutants is discussed, as nitrogenous pollution treatment results in a special design of processes and operational conditions. For primary treatments, hydrophobic pollutants (log K ow > 4) are well removed (>70 %) for both systems despite high variations of removal. PCLS allows an obvious gain of about 20 % regarding pollutant removals, as a result of better suspended solids elimination and possible coagulant impact on soluble compounds. For biological treatments, variations of removal are much weaker, and the majority of pollutants are comparably removed within both systems. Hydrophobic and volatile compounds are well (>60 %) or very well removed (>80 %) by sorption and volatilization. Some readily biodegradable molecules are better removed by CAS, indicating a better biodegradation. A better sorption of pollutants on activated sludge could be also expected considering the differences of characteristics between a biofilm and flocs. Finally, comparison of global processes efficiency using removals of micropollutants load normalized to nitrogen shows that PCLS + BF is as efficient as PS + CAS despite a higher compactness and a shorter hydraulic retention time (HRT). Only some groups of pollutants seem better removed by PS + CAS like alkylphenols, flame retardants, or di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), thanks to better biodegradation and sorption resulting from HRT and biomass characteristics. For both processes, and out of the 68 molecules found in raw water, only half of them are still detected in the water discharged, most of the time close to their detection limit. However, some of them are detected at higher concentrations (>1 μg/L and/or lower than environmental quality standards), which is problematic as they represent a threat for aquatic environment.

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