Biotransformation of Trace Organic Contaminants in Open-Water Unit Process Treatment Wetlands

The bottoms of shallow, open-water wetland cells are rapidly colonized by a biomat consisting of an assemblage of photosynthetic and heterotrophic microorganisms. To assess the contribution of biotransformation in this biomat to the overall attenuation of trace organic contaminants, transformation rates of test compounds measured in microcosms were compared with attenuation rates measured in a pilot-scale system. The biomat in the pilot-scale system was composed of diatoms (<i>Staurosira construens</i>) and a bacterial community dominated by β- and γ-Proteobacteria. Biotransformation was the dominant removal mechanism in the pilot-scale system for atenolol, metoprolol, and trimethoprim, while sulfamethoxazole and propranolol were attenuated mainly via photolysis. In microcosm experiments, biotransformation rates increased for metoprolol and propranolol when algal photosynthesis was supported by irradiation with visible light. Biotransformation rates increased for trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole in the dark, when microbial respiration depleted dissolved oxygen concentrations within the biomat. During summer, atenolol, metoprolol, and propranolol were rapidly attenuated in the pilot-scale system (<i>t</i><sub>1/2</sub> < 0.5 d), trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole were transformed more slowly (<i>t</i><sub>1/2</sub> ≈ 1.5–2 d), and carbamazepine was recalcitrant. The combination of biotransformation and photolysis resulted in overall transformation rates that were 10 to 100 times faster than those previously measured in vegetated wetlands, allowing for over 90% attenuation of all compounds studied except carbamazepine within an area similar to that typical of existing full-scale vegetated treatment wetlands.