Comparison of PPCPs removal on a parallel-operated MBR and AS system and evaluation of effluent post-treatment on vertical flow reed beds

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The presence in the aquatic environment of xenobiotics such as Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) has emerged as an issue of concern. Upgrading sewage treatment quality with modern technologies such as Membrane Bioreactors (MBRs) and/or implementing a further post-treatment might mitigate the release of xenobiotics into surface waters. The performance of two processes treating municipal sewage, a MBR and an Activated Sludge (AS) unit, have been compared in terms of PPCPs removal. Moreover, their effluents were treated using vertical flow reed beds. Both systems were operated under similar conditions, more specifically Hydraulic Retention Time (HRT), maintained at 8 hours, and Sludge Retention Time (SRT) set at 6 and 20 days. Pharmaceuticals belong to therapeutic groups such as antiepileptics (carbamazepine) and analgesics (ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac), whereas the personal care products are musk fragrances (galaxolide and tonalide). Xenobiotics removals achieved in the MBR showed better results, particularly for the acidic drugs ibuprofen (87% vs. 50%) and naproxen (56% vs. 6%) operating at low SRT. After filtration through vertical flow reed-beds, PPCPs content in effluents was decreased, below 1 ppb in most cases, improving the effluent quality and confirming reed-beds as an interesting low cost alternative in order to attenuate xenobiotics contamination.

Keywords: activated sludge, MBR, micropollutants, post-treatment, wetlands

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