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Environ Eng Sci. 2013 Aug;30(8):421-436.

Unit Process Wetlands for Removal of Trace Organic Contaminants and Pathogens from Municipal Wastewater Effluents.

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Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt) , National Science Foundation, Stanford, California. ; Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California , Berkeley, California.


Treatment wetlands have become an attractive option for the removal of nutrients from municipal wastewater effluents due to their low energy requirements and operational costs, as well as the ancillary benefits they provide, including creating aesthetically appealing spaces and wildlife habitats. Treatment wetlands also hold promise as a means of removing other wastewater-derived contaminants, such as trace organic contaminants and pathogens. However, concerns about variations in treatment efficacy of these pollutants, coupled with an incomplete mechanistic understanding of their removal in wetlands, hinder the widespread adoption of constructed wetlands for these two classes of contaminants. A better understanding is needed so that wetlands as a unit process can be designed for their removal, with individual wetland cells optimized for the removal of specific contaminants, and connected in series or integrated with other engineered or natural treatment processes. In this article, removal mechanisms of trace organic contaminants and pathogens are reviewed, including sorption and sedimentation, biotransformation and predation, photolysis and photoinactivation, and remaining knowledge gaps are identified. In addition, suggestions are provided for how these treatment mechanisms can be enhanced in commonly employed unit process wetland cells or how they might be harnessed in novel unit process cells. It is hoped that application of the unit process concept to a wider range of contaminants will lead to more widespread application of wetland treatment trains as components of urban water infrastructure in the United States and around the globe.


critical review; municipal wastewater; pathogens; trace organic contaminants; treatment wetlands

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