Phosphorus and emerging micro-pollutants in surface waters: challenges and prospects for water quality improvement

Hooda, Peter S., Wilkinson Jr, John and Millier, Helen (2014) Phosphorus and emerging micro-pollutants in surface waters: challenges and prospects for water quality improvement. International Journal of Sustainable Water and Environmental Systems, 6(1), pp. 27-33. ISSN (print) 1923-7537


An oversupply of Phosphorus in water bodies accelerates growth of algae and higher forms of plant life to produce undesirable impacts on overall water quality. Phosphorus inputs to surface waters arise from a variety of point and nonpoint sources. However much of the P is contributed by agricultural runoff and outfall of treated (or untreated) wastewater in receiving water-bodies. Point sourced-P inputs to waters have considerably decreased in recent years, at least partly driven by regulatory requirements, e.g. the EU Water Framework Directive. This has largely been achieved by removing P from treated wastewaters at sewage treatment works (STWs). Studies have shown that introducing an additional treatment step (“P-stripping”) can significantly reduce P in STW outfalls. Given P deposits are depleting, there is much interest in phosphorus recovery from wastewaters. A few STWs have already started to recover P as struvite (NH4MgPO4.6H2O) mineral – a substitute for commercially produced P-fertilizers. This requires major investment and is not economically viable at small STWs. Nonetheless it is a major breakthrough in terms of P recovery and its use. Effluents from sewage treatment works (STW) can often contain a complex mixture of residual microcontaminants, not removed during wastewater treatment. Organic micro-pollutants have been found in rivers receiving STW effluents. Such residual contaminants have become the focus of an emerging field of water quality study and are collectively referred to as pharmaceuticals and other personal healthcare products, PPHCPs. Many of these chemicals have the ability to effect the hormonal signaling of organisms and are called endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC). Such chemicals have shown some of the most damaging biological effects in aquatic organisms. Biological effects in the aquatic environment are typically related to the development of intersex in fish. Recent research shows the use of STW practices such as upgrading from using a combined trickling filter contact process to activated sludge treatment, ozonation, membrane filtration and use of suspended biofilm reactors reduces the amount of EDCs in waste effluent. It is thus possible to remove contaminants from STW effluents, but it will not be possible without major infrastructure improvements. This paper presents the challenges and prospects of P and micro-organic pollutants in surface waters.

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