Eco-engineering systems for removal of micropollutants from WWTP effluents – existing knowledge
This report summarizes relevant available knowledge on the removal of micropollutants from WWTP effluent in natural treatment systems such as constructed wetlands (polishing). Five studies were found investigating removal of various micropollutants in eight different full scale systems located in Spain, southern France, Korea and Sweden (all being different configurations of free water surface wetlands), demonstrating good removal (>80%) for more than 15 micropollutants compounds under summer conditions, e.g. diclofenac, ketoprofen, naproxen, ibuprofen, galaxolide, atenolol, ciprofloxacin, triclosan, glyphosate, ofloxacin and metoprolol. Hydraulic retention times (HRT) ranged from 0.25 to 30d. At HRT of 0.25d, only naproxen and atenolol were removed by >80% in summer, highlighting the importance of HRT for system performance. Another important factor influencing the removal is temperature and season with lower removal in winter. However, in warm climates (e.g. two studies in northern Spain and one study in southern France), reduction of removal efficiencies in winter is less pronounced with values for removal of the majority of investigated pharmaceuticals in winter still being >60%. In 4 FWS wetlands sampled during winter at sub-zero temperatures in Sweden, though, removal was mostly below 50%. A variety of removal mechanisms simultaneously occur in natural treatment systems and are relevant to varying extent for each compound and system type. Important removal mechanisms are biodegradation (e.g. for naproxen, ibuprofen), photodegradation (e.g. for diclofenac, ketoprofen, sulfamethoxazole) and adsorption (e.g. for galaxolide, tonalide). The relevance of plant uptake and phytodegradation as removal mechanisms is not fully understood; however, a few studies demonstrate the translocation of pharmaceuticals (e.g. carbamazepine) to plant tissue. For biodegradation, redox conditions are an important parameter influencing microbial degradation pathways. Design guidelines for eco-engineered treatment systems targeting the removal of micropollutants are not available to date. In addition, data necessary to dimension ecoengineered treatment systems that target the reduction of micropollutants in WWTP effluent (e.g. kinetic data such as removal rates and its dependence on temperature) is lacking. For the development of design guidelines for eco-engineered systems targeting the removal of micropollutants, removal rates for each system type and compound and their dependence from temperatures needs to be determined for all compounds of interest. Furthermore, more research is necessary for a deeper understanding of processes in eco-engineered systems, especially the relevance of the different removal mechanisms and conditions for removal for each individual micropollutant of interest. Nevertheless, eco-engineered treatment systems are a promising technology for polishing of WWTP effluent, including further removal of micropollutants.