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Treatability of Nonylphenol Ethoxylate Surfactants in On-Site Wastewater Disposal Systems

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The fate of nine-mole nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE9) discharged to an on-site wastewater disposal (septic) system was the focus of a 2-year investigation. Known amounts of NPE9-based detergent were metered daily into the plumbing at a single-family household. The ethoxylate-containing wastewater was discharged to the highly anoxic environment of a 4500-L septic tank before distribution to the oxic subsurface via 100 m of leach line. After 180 days of injecting detergent to the septic system, periodic soil pore water and/or groundwater samples were collected and analyzed for nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), nonylphenol ether carboxylates, and nonylphenol. The NPE9 and degradation intermediates that were measured were reduced by 99.99% on a molar basis. An 18% reduction in molar concentration within the septic tank was observed. This was followed by a further 96.7% reduction of molar concentration within the leach lines. As the pore water migrated through the vadose zone, an additional 99.69% reduction in molar concentration was measured between the bottom of the leach lines (leach line effluent) and the lowest vadose zone monitoring location. The results obtained from these analyses indicate that degradation of the surfactant occurs within the anoxic portion of the disposal system with continued rapid biodegradation in the oxic unsaturated zone. Only trace amounts of degradation residuals were detected in soil pore water. The concentration and distribution of various degradation intermediates with respect to location, time, and ambient physical conditions were evaluated. Rapid and systematic degradation of NPE in on-site wastewater disposal systems was documented.

Keywords: degradation modeling; nonylphenol ethoxylates; on-site disposal; septic system; surfactants; wastewater

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2006

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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