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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2007 Jul;14(5):284-92.

The fate of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the wastewater treatment process and its importance in the removal of wastewater contaminants.

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Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Department of Chemistry, Environmental Pollution Control Laboratory, Thessaloniki 54124, Greece.



Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) constitutes a parameter of organic pollution for waters and wastewaters, which is not so often studied, and it is not yet regulated by directives. The term 'DOC' is used for the fraction of organics that pass through a 0.45 microm pores' size membrane. The type of wastewater plays an important role in the quality of DOC and it has been shown that DOC may contain aquatic humic substances, hydrophobic bases, hydrophobic neutrals, hydrophilic acids, hydrophilic bases and hydrophilic neutrals. The quality of the DOC is expected to affect its fate in a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), since a considerable fraction of DOC is not biodegradable, and it may be released in the aquatic environment together with the treated effluent. In the present study, the occurrence of DOC during the wastewater treatment process is investigated and its removal rates during primary, secondary and overall treatment are being estimated. Furthermore, a correlation is being attempted between DOC and the concentrations of selected Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Heavy Metals (HMs) in the dissolved phase of wastewaters, to examine whether there are common sources for these pollution parameters in WWTPs. Also, DOC is being correlated with the partition coefficients of the above-mentioned pollutants in wastewater, in order to examine the effect of 'solubility enhancement' in WWTPs and to evaluate the result of this phenomenon in the efficiency of a WWTP to remove organic pollutants.


For the purposes of this study, 24-h composite wastewater samples were collected from the influent (raw wastewater, RW), the effluent of primary sedimentation tank (primary sedimentation effluent, PSE) and the effluent of secondary sedimentation tank (secondary sedimentation effluent, SSE). Samples were analyzed for the presence of 26 POPs (7 PCBs and 19 organochlorine pesticides), 8 HMs and DOC.


Mean concentrations of DOC in RW and PSE were at similar levels (approximately 70 mg l(-1)), suggesting that primary treatment has a minor effect on the DOC content of wastewater. DOC concentrations in SSE were significantly lower (approximately 19 mg l(-1)) as a result of the degradation of organic compounds in the biological reactor. Calculated removals of DOC were 0.8% in the primary treatment, 63% in the secondary treatment, and 69% in the overall treatment, exhibiting large differences from other organic pollution parameters, such as BOD and COD. The overall DOC removal was found to be independent from the DOC concentration in raw wastewater. Poor correlation was also observed between the DOC content and the concentrations of wastewater contaminants, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals (HMs), probably suggesting that their occurrence in WWTPs is due to different sources. A good negative linear relationship was revealed between DOC concentrations and the logarithms of the distribution coefficients (Kd) of various POPs and HMs between the solid and the liquid phases of wastewater. This relationship suggests that DOC facilitates hydrophobic pollutants to remain in the dissolved phase thus causing lower removal percentages during the treatment process.


DOC was measured at three stages of a municipal WWTP that receives mainly domestic wastewater and urban runoff. DOC concentrations in untreated and primarily treated wastewater were almost equal, and only after the secondary sedimentation there was a decrease. Concentrations and removal rates of DOC were in the same levels as in other WWTPs that receive municipal wastewater. The origin of DOC was found to be different to the one of POPs and of HMs, as no correlation was observed between the concentrations of DOC and the concentrations of these pollutants. On the contrary, DOC was found to have significant negative correlation with the Kd of all pollutants examined, suggesting that it plays an important role in the partitioning of those pollutants between the dissolved and the sorbed phase of wastewaters. This effect of DOC on partitioning can affect the ability of WWTPs to remove toxic pollutants, and that way it facilitates the discharge of those chemicals in the aquatic ecosystems together with the treated effluent. RRECOMMENDATION:By the results of this work it is shown that the presence of DOC in wastewaters can significantly affect the partition of hazardous pollutants between the dissolved and the sorbed phase. It is therefore of importance that this parameter is controlled more in wastewaters, since it can cause a decrease in the efficiency of WWTPs to remove quantitatively persistent pollutants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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