Phosphorus species and fractionation: why sewage derived phosphorus is a problem

Millier, Helen K G R and Hooda, Peter S (2011) Phosphorus species and fractionation: why sewage derived phosphorus is a problem. Journal of Environmental Management, 92(4), pp. 1210-1214. ISSN (print) 0301-4797


Phosphorus (P) inputs to sewage treatment works (STW) come from a variety of sources and filtration of treated wastewater prior to discharge into receiving waters is a common practice. This means P in treated wastewaters may be present in forms that are potentially more bioavailable and mobile. We conducted a 2-year study to determine P species up and downstream of two STW outfalls into two tributaries of the River Thames. Downstream of the outfalls, P concentrations in both rivers were frequently greater by an order of magnitude for all species of P. A high proportion of total P (TP) in the downstream waters was determined as dissolved, which was largely comprised of soluble reactive P (SRP) - considered as the most bioavailable P species. Furthermore no significant difference in SRP was found in receiving waters passed through 0.45 and 0.10 μm filters. This means that P from STWs occurs in <0.1 μm fraction size, which will not readily settle to the channel bed and is more easily assimilated by biota. This distinguishes STW inputs from agricultural runoff where a high proportion of P occurs as particulate P which is both less bioavailable and more likely to settle to the channel bed. This implies that STWs derived P is likely to have a greater adverse impact on the receiving river than agricultural runoff.

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