American Chemical Society
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Fate of Alkylphenolic Compounds during Activated Sludge Treatment: Impact of Loading and Organic Composition

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journal contribution
posted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by Ewan J. McAdam, John P. Bagnall, Ana Soares, Yoong K. K. Koh, Tze Y. Chiu, Mark D. Scrimshaw, John N. Lester, Elise Cartmell
The impact of loading and organic composition on the fate of alkylphenolic compounds in the activated sludge plant (ASP) has been studied. Three ASP designs comprising carbonaceous, carbonaceous/nitrification, and carbonaceous/nitrification/denitrification treatment were examined to demonstrate the impact of increasing levels of process complexity and to incorporate a spectrum of loading conditions. Based on mass balance, overall biodegradation efficiencies for nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEOs), short chain carboxylates (NP1−3EC) and nonylphenol (NP) were 37%, 59%, and 27% for the carbonaceous, carbonaceous/nitrification, and carbonaceous/nitrification/denitrification ASP, respectively. The presence of a rich community of ammonia oxidizing bacteria does not necessarily facilitate effective alkylphenolic compound degradation. However, a clear correlation between alkylphenolic compound loading and long chain ethoxylate compound biodegradation was determined at the three ASPs, indicating that at higher initial alkylphenolic compound concentrations (or load), greater ethoxylate biotransformation can occur. In addition, the impact of settled sewage organic composition on alkylphenolic compound removal was evaluated. A correlation between the ratio of chemical oxygen demand (COD) to alkylphenolic compound concentration and biomass activity was determined, demonstrating the inhibiting effect of bulk organic matter on alkylphenol polyethoxylate transformation activity. At all three ASPs the biodegradation pathway proposed involves the preferential biodegradation of the amphiphilic ethoxylated compounds, after which the preferential attack of the lipophilic akylphenol moiety occurs. The extent of ethoxylate biodegradation is driven by the initial alkylphenolic compound concentration and the proportion of COD constituted by the alkylphenol polyethoxylates (APEOs) and their metabolites relative to the bulk organic concentration of the sewage composed of proteins, acids, fats, and polysaccharides. Secondary effluents from this study are characterized by low bulk organic concentrations and comparatively high micropollutant concentrations. Based on the biodegradation mechanism proposed in this study, application of high rate tertiary biological treatment processes to secondary effluents characterized by low bulk organic concentrations and comparatively high APEO concentrations is predicted to provide a sustainable solution to micropollutant removal.