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Water Res. 2011 Jan;45(3):1238-46. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2010.09.037. Epub 2010 Oct 7.

Evaluation and modeling of benzalkonium chloride inhibition and biodegradation in activated sludge.

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The College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, Tianjin 300071, China.


The inhibitory effect and biodegradation of benzalkonium chloride (BAC), a mixture of alkyl benzyl dimethyl ammonium chlorides with different alkyl chain lengths, was investigated at a concentration range from 5 to 20 mg/L and different biomass concentrations in an activated sludge system. A solution containing glucose and mineral salts was used as the wastewater in all the assays performed. The inhibition of respiratory enzymes was identified as the mode of action of BAC as a result of oxygen uptake rate analysis performed at BAC concentrations ranging between 5 and 70 mg/L. The glucose degradation in the activated sludge at different BAC and biomass concentrations was well-described with Monod kinetics with competitive inhibition. The half-saturation inhibition constant (K(I)) which is equivalent to EC(50) of BAC for the activated sludge tested ranged between 0.12 and 3.60 mg/L. The high K(I) values were recorded at low BAC-to-biomass ratios, i.e. less than 10 mg BAC/g VSS, at which BAC was almost totally adsorbed to biomass and not bioavailable. BAC degradation started as soon as glucose was totally consumed. Although BAC was almost totally adsorbed on the biomass, it was degraded completely. Therefore, BAC degradation was modeled using two-phase biodegradation kinetics developed in this study. This model involves rapid partitioning of BAC to biomass and consecutive degradation in both aqueous and solid phases. The aqueous phase BAC degradation rate was twenty times, on average, higher than the solid phase degradation rate. The specific aqueous (k(I1)) and solid (k(I2)) phase BAC utilization rate constants were 1.25 and 0.31 mg BAC/g VSS h, respectively. The findings of this study would help to understand the reason of extensive distribution of quaternary ammonium compounds in wastewater treatment plant effluents and in natural water systems although QACs are biodegradable, and develop strategies to avoid their release and accumulation in the environment.

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