Water research

Emerging organic contaminant removal depending on primary treatment and operational strategy in horizontal subsurface flow constructed wetlands: influence of redox.

PMID 23123085


This study aimed at assessing the influence of primary treatment (hydrolytic upflow sludge blanket (HUSB) reactor vs. conventional settling) and operational strategy (alternation of saturated/unsaturated phases vs. permanently saturated) on the removal of various emerging organic contaminants (i.e. ibuprofen, diclofenac, acetaminophen, tonalide, oxybenzone, bisphenol A) in horizontal subsurface flow constructed wetlands. For that purpose, a continuous injection experiment was carried out in an experimental treatment plant for 26 days. The plant had 3 treatment lines: a control line (settler-wetland permanently saturated), a batch line (settler-wetland operated with saturate/unsaturated phases) and an anaerobic line (HUSB reactor-wetland permanently saturated). In each line, wetlands had a surface area of 2.95 m(2), a water depth of 25 cm and a granular medium D(60) = 7.3 mm, and were planted with common reed. During the study period the wetlands were operated at a hydraulic and organic load of 25 mm/d and about 4.7 g BOD/m(2)d, respectively. The injection experiment delivered very robust results that show how the occurrence of higher redox potentials within the wetland bed promotes the elimination of conventional quality parameters as well as emerging microcontaminants. Overall, removal efficiencies were always greater for the batch line than for the control and anaerobic lines, and to this respect statistically significantly differences were found for ibuprofen, diclofenac, oxybenzone and bisphenol A. As an example, ibuprofen, whose major removal mechanism has been reported to be biodegradation under aerobic conditions, showed a higher removal in the batch line (85%) than in the control (63%) and anaerobic (52%) lines. Bisphenol A showed also a great dependence on the redox status of the wetlands, finding an 89% removal rate for the batch line, as opposed to the control and anaerobic lines (79 and 65%, respectively). Furthermore, diclofenac showed a greater removal under a higher redox status (70, 48 and 32% in the batch, control and anaerobic lines). Average removal efficiencies of acetaminophen, oxybenzone and tonalide were almost >90% for the 3 treatment lines. The results of this study indicate that the efficiency of horizontal flow constructed wetland systems can be improved by using a batch operation strategy. Furthermore, we tentatively identified 4-hydroxy-diclofenac and carboxy-bisphenol A as intermediate degradation products. The higher abundance of the latter under the batch operation strategy reinforced biodegradation as a relevant bisphenol A removal pathway under higher redox conditions.