Characterizing the Passage of Personal Care Products Through Wastewater Treatment Processes

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Wastewater treatment facilities use secondary treatment to stabilize the effect of discharged effluent on receiving waters by oxidizing biodegradable organic matter and reducing suspended solids and nutrients. The process was never specifically intended to remove trace quantities of xenobiotics, such as endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) and pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). Nevertheless, European studies performed at bench-scale or at small facilities have demonstrated that a critical minimum solids retention time (SRT) can achieve good reduction of many EDCs and pharmaceuticals. The objective of this study was to expand these findings to the removal performance for 20 PPCPs commonly found in the influent to full-scale facilities operating in the United States. The participating plants use SRT conditions ranging from 0.5 to 30 days and include facility capacities ranging from 19 000 m3/d (5 mgd) to greater than 1 136 000 m3/d (300 mgd). Two pilot membrane bioreactors were also included in the study.

The 20 PPCPs were categorized into nine bin combinations of occurrence frequency and treatment reduction performance. While most compounds were well removed, galaxolide (a musk fragrance) occurred frequently and was resistant to removal. A minimum critical SRT, defined as the minimum SRT, needed to consistently demonstrate greater than 80% removal (SRT80), was compound-dependent, with most compounds removed at 5 to 15 days and a small group requiring longer SRTs. From limited data, no additional removal could be attributed to the use of membrane bioreactors, media filters, or longer hydraulic retention times. Reverse osmosis was effective in removing any remaining compounds.

Keywords: full-scale treatment plants; personal care products; secondary treatment; solids retention time

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2007

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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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