Unraveling the potential of a combined nitritation-anammox biomass towards the biodegradation of pharmaceutically active compounds

In the past few years, anaerobic ammonium oxidation-based processes have attracted a lot of attention for their implementation at the mainstream line of wastewater treatment plants, due to the possibility of leading to energy autarky if combined with anaerobic digestion. However, little is known about the potential degradation of micropollutants by the microbial groups responsible of these processes and the few results available are inconclusive. This study aimed to assess the degradation capability of biomass withdrawn from a combined nitritation/anaerobic ammonium oxidation (combined N/A) pilot plant towards five pharmaceutically active compounds (ibuprofen, sulfamethoxazole, metoprolol, venlafaxine and carbamazepine). Batch experiments were performed under different conditions by selectively activating or inhibiting different microbial groups: i) regular combined N/A operation, ii) aerobic (optimal for nitrifying bacteria), iii) aerobic with allylthiourea (an inhibitor of ammonia monooxygenase, enzyme of ammonia oxidizing bacteria), iv) anoxic (optimal for anaerobic ammonium oxidizing bacteria), v) aerobic with acetate (optimal for heterotrophic bacteria) and vi) anoxic with acetate (optimal for heterotrophic denitrifying bacteria). Ibuprofen was the most biodegradable compound being significantly degraded (49–100%) under any condition except heterotrophic denitrification. Sulfamethoxazole, exhibited the highest removal (70%) under optimal conditions for nitrifying bacteria but in the rest of the experiments anoxic conditions were found to be slightly more favorable (up to 58%). For metoprolol the highest performance was obtained under anoxic conditions favoring anammox bacteria (62%). Finally, carbamazepine and venlafaxine were hardly removed (≤ 10% in the majority of cases). Taken together, these results suggest the specificity of different microbial groups that in combination with alternating operational parameters can lead to enhanced removal of some micropollutants.

Additional Info

  • Year: 2018
  • Authors: Kassotaki, E., Pijuan, M., Joss, A., Borrego, C., Rodriguez-Roda, I., Buttiglieri, G.
  • Reference: Science of the Total Environment, Volume 624, 15 May 2018, Pages 722-731

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Laboratory of Chemical and Enviromental Engineering

Institut de Medi Ambient
Universitat de Girona
Campus Montilivi
17003 Girona

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17003 Girona
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