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A review of the fate of micropollutants in wastewater treatment plants

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Municipal wastewaters are contaminated by a wide range of chemicals, from surfactants to heavy metals, including pharmaceutical residues, personal care products, various household chemicals, and biocides/pesticides. Their release into the environment, where they may generate adverse effects on aquatic organisms, depends on their fate in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The sources, the typical concentrations and the fate of more than 160 micropollutants of various classes in conventional WWTPs, were investigated in order to estimate surface water contamination, risks for aquatic organisms, and to propose means to reduce their release into the environment. Relatively hydrophobic pollutants such as heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), brominated flame retardants, and several personal care products (PCPs), as well as easily biodegradable pollutants such as surfactants, plastic additives, hormones, several PCPs, some pharmaceuticals, and household chemicals, are usually well removed (>70%) in WWTPs, either by sorption onto sewage sludge or by biodegradation. Good removal efficiencies, however, do not mean that the effluent concentrations will not potentially affect aquatic life, as some of these compounds are toxic at very low concentrations. More hydrophilic and poorly‐to‐moderately biodegradable pollutants such as several pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and household chemicals (corrosion inhibitors, sweeteners, chelating agents, phosphorus flame retardants) are only poorly removed during treatments. To decrease their discharge into surface waters, source control combined to advanced treatments such as ozonation and adsorption onto activated carbon are necessary. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water Engineering Water > Water, Health, and Sanitation Science of Water > Water Quality
Removal of heavy metals (total concentration) as a function of the removal of suspended solids in (a) primary treatments and (b) secondary treatments. Results of an extensive study made on 16 WWTPs in the UK during 2010/2011. (Data adapted with permission from Ref )
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Micropollutant biotransformation by (a) metabolic (e.g., ibuprofen) or (b) co‐metabolic processes (e.g., sulfamethoxazole).
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Micropollutant adsorption onto sludge and onto dissolved and colloidal matter.
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Main removal mechanisms of micropollutants in conventional WWTPs (example of the polycyclic musk galaxolide). This compound is mainly eliminated by sorption on particulate matter and removed with the excess sludge. Biological degradation and volatilization processes may play also a role (10–15%) in the elimination of this compound (see Table ).
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Scheme of a conventional WWTP with activated sludge for the removal of biodegradable organic matter, nitrification, denitrification, and chemical phosphorus removal (precipitation with FeCl3). The sludge produced is then treated to be either reused as fertilizer or incinerated.
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Removal of (a) triclosan (TCN), ibuprofen (IBP), salicylic acid (SLCYA), and 17β‐estradiol (E2) as a function of BOD removal in conventional WWTPs, and removal of (b) bisphenol A (BPA) and estrone (E1) as a function of ammonium removal in secondary biological treatments. Results of an extensive study made on 16 WWTPs in UK during 1 year in 2010/2011. (Data adapted with permission from Ref )
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Synthesis of average WWTP removal efficiencies and effluent concentrations of (a) 48 pharmaceuticals (Swiss data), 16 personal care products (5 fragrances, 2 preservatives, 3 antimicrobial agents, 1 insect repellent, 5 UV filters), 7 hormones, and 4 illicit drugs; and (b) 12 pesticides/biocides, 9 heavy metals, 10 persistent organic pollutants (POPs, mainly hydrophobic pesticides and PCBs), 12 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), 6 volatile aromatic organic compounds (VOCs), 32 household chemicals (4 sweeteners, 6 plastic additives, 6 corrosion inhibitors, 2 chelating agents, 12 flame retardants, and 2 perfluorinated compounds) and 12 surfactants. Average values from European and American WWTPs, with primary and secondary treatments (equivalent to activated sludge with partial nitrification). Sources of the data are given in Table .
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Science of Water > Water Quality
Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water
Engineering Water > Water, Health, and Sanitation

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