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The Science of the total environment

Factors affecting fluoride and natural organic matter (NOM) removal from natural waters in Tanzania by nanofiltration/reverse osmosis.


PMID 26005995

Abstract

This study examined the feasibility of nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO) in treating challenging natural tropical waters containing high fluoride and natural organic matter (NOM). A total of 166 water samples were collected from 120 sources within northern Tanzania over a period of 16 months. Chemical analysis showed that 81% of the samples have fluoride levels exceeding the WHO drinking guideline of 1.5mg/L. The highest fluoride levels were detected in waters characterized by high ionic strength, high inorganic carbon and on some occasions high total organic carbon (TOC) concentrations. Bench-scale experiments with 22 representative waters (selected based on fluoride concentration, salinity, origin and in some instances organic matter) and 6 NF/RO membranes revealed that ionic strength and recovery affected fluoride retention and permeate flux. This is predominantly due to osmotic pressure and hence the variation of diffusion/convection contributes to fluoride transport. Different membranes had distinct fluoride removal capacities, showing different raw water concentration treatability limits regarding the WHO guideline compliance. BW30, BW30-LE and NF90 membranes had a feed concentration limit of 30-40 mg/L at 50% recovery. NOM retention was independent of water matrices but is governed predominantly by size exclusion. NOM was observed to have a positive impact on fluoride removal. Several mechanisms could contribute but further studies are required before a conclusion could be drawn. In summary, NF/RO membranes were proved to remove both fluoride and NOM reliably even from the most challenging Tanzanian waters, increasing the available drinking water sources.