Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Sewage treatment


Drinking water contamination with poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) poses risks to the developmental, immune, metabolic, and endocrine health of consumers. We present a spatial analysis of 2013-2015 national drinking water PFAS concentrations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) program. The number of industrial sites that manufacture or use these compounds, the number of military fire training areas, and the number of wastewater treatment plants are all significant predictors of PFAS detection frequencies and concentrations in public water supplies. Among samples with detectable PFAS levels, each additional military site within a watershed’s eight-digit hydrologic unit is associated with a 20% increase in PFHxS, a 10% increase in both PFHpA and PFOA, and a 35% increase in PFOS. The number of civilian airports with personnel trained in the use of aqueous film-forming foams is significantly associated with the detection of PFASs above the minimal reporting level. We find drinking water supplies for 6 million U.S. residents exceed US EPA’s lifetime health advisory (70 ng/L) for PFOS and PFOA. Lower analytical reporting limits and additional sampling of smaller utilities serving <10000 individuals and private wells would greatly assist in further identifying PFAS contamination sources.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, Sewage treatment, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Drinking water, Stormwater, Safe Drinking Water Act, Environmental protection


Artificial sweeteners have been widely incorporated in human food products for aid in weight loss regimes, dental health protection and dietary control of diabetes. Some of these widely used compounds can pass non-degraded through wastewater treatment systems and are subsequently discharged to groundwater and surface waters. Measurements of artificial sweeteners in rivers used for drinking water production are scarce. In order to determine the riverine concentrations of artificial sweeteners and their usefulness as a tracer of wastewater at the scale of an entire watershed, we analyzed samples from 23 sites along the entire length of the Grand River, a large river in Southern Ontario, Canada, that is impacted by agricultural activities and urban centres. Municipal water from household taps was also sampled from several cities within the Grand River Watershed. Cyclamate, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame were found in elevated concentrations despite high rates of biological activity, large daily cycles in dissolved oxygen and shallow river depth. The maximum concentrations that we measured for sucralose (21 µg/L), cyclamate (0.88 µg/L), and saccharin (7.2 µg/L) are the highest reported concentrations of these compounds in surface waters to date anywhere in the world. Acesulfame persists at concentrations that are up to several orders of magnitude above the detection limit over a distance of 300 km and it behaves conservatively in the river, recording the wastewater contribution from the cumulative population in the basin. Acesulfame is a reliable wastewater effluent tracer in rivers. Furthermore, it can be used to assess rates of nutrient assimilation, track wastewater plume dilution, separate human and animal waste contributions and determine the relative persistence of emerging contaminants in impacted watersheds where multiple sources confound the usefulness of other tracers. The effects of artificial sweeteners on aquatic biota in rivers and in the downstream Great Lakes are largely unknown.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, Sewage treatment, Wastewater, Environmental engineering, Effluent, Sweeteners, Sucralose


The biotransformation of diclofenac during wastewater treatment was investigated. Attached growth biomass from a carrier-filled compartment of a hybrid-MBBR at the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland was used to test the biotransformation. Laboratory-scale incubation experiments were performed with diclofenac and carriers and high-resolution LC-QTof-MS was implemented to monitor the biotransformation. Up to 20 diclofenac transformation products (TPs) were detected. Tentative structures were proposed for 16 of the TPs after characterization by MS(2) fragmentation and/or inferring the structure from the transformation pathway and the molecular formula given by the high resolution ionic mass. The remaining four TPs were unambiguously identified via analytical reference standards. The postulated reactions forming the TPs were: hydroxylation, decarboxylation, oxidation, amide formation, ring-opening and reductive dechlorination. Incubation experiments of individual TPs, those which were available as reference standards, provided a deeper look into the transformation pathways. It was found that the transformation consists of four main pathways but no pathway accounted for a clear majority of the transformation. A 10-day monitoring campaign of the full-scale plant confirmed an 88% removal of diclofenac (from approximately 1.6 μg/L in WWTP influent) and the formation of TPs as found in the laboratory was observed. One of the TPs, N-(2,6-dichlorophenyl)-2-indolinone detected at concentrations of around 0.25 μg/L in WWTP effluent, accounting for 16% of the influent diclofenac concentration. The biotransformation of carriers was compared to a second WWTP not utilising carriers. It was found that in contact with activated sludge, similar hydroxylation and decarboxylation reactions occurred but at much slower rates, whereas some reactions, e.g. reductive dechlorination, were not detected at all. Finally, incubation experiments were performed with attached growth biomass from a third WWTP with a similar process configuration to Bad Ragaz WWTP. A similarly effective removal of diclofenac was found with a similar presence of TPs.

Concepts: Water pollution, Sewage treatment, Sewage, Wastewater, Industrial wastewater treatment, Sewerage, Environmental engineering, Reductive dechlorination


Microplastics result from fragmentation of plastic debris or are released to the environment as pre-production pellets or components of consumer and industrial products. In the oceans, they contribute to the ‘great garbage patches’. They are ingested by many organisms, from protozoa to baleen whales, and pose a threat to the aquatic fauna. Although as much as 80% of marine debris originates from land, little attention was given to the role of rivers as debris pathways to the sea. Worldwide, not a single great river has yet been studied for the surface microplastics load over its length. We report the abundance and composition of microplastics at the surface of the Rhine, one of the largest European rivers. Measurements were made at 11 locations over a stretch of 820 km. Microplastics were found in all samples, with 892,777 particles km (-2) on average. In the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area, a peak concentration of 3.9 million particles km (-2) was measured. Microplastics concentrations were diverse along and across the river, reflecting various sources and sinks such as waste water treatment plants, tributaries and weirs. Measures should be implemented to avoid and reduce the pollution with anthropogenic litter in aquatic ecosystems.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, River, Sewage treatment, Sea, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Rhine


Next-generation sequencing of the V1-V2 and V3 variable regions of the 16S rRNA gene generated a total of 674,116 reads that described six distinct bacterial biofilm communities from both water meters and pipes. A high degree of reproducibility was demonstrated for the experimental and analytical work-flow by analyzing the communities present in parallel water meters, the rare occurrence of biological replicates within a working drinking water distribution system. The communities observed in water meters from households that did not complain about their drinking water were defined by sequences representing Proteobacteria (82-87%), with 22-40% of all sequences being classified as Sphingomonadaceae. However, a water meter biofilm community from a household with consumer reports of red water and flowing water containing elevated levels of iron and manganese had fewer sequences representing Proteobacteria (44%); only 0.6% of all sequences were classified as Sphingomonadaceae; and, in contrast to the other water meter communities, markedly more sequences represented Nitrospira and Pedomicrobium. The biofilm communities in pipes were distinct from those in water meters, and contained sequences that were identified as Mycobacterium, Nocardia, Desulfovibrio, and Sulfuricurvum. The approach employed in the present study resolved the bacterial diversity present in these biofilm communities as well as the differences that occurred in biofilms within a single distribution system, and suggests that next-generation sequencing of 16S rRNA amplicons can show changes in bacterial biofilm communities associated with different water qualities.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Microbiology, Ribosomal RNA, 16S ribosomal RNA, Polysaccharide, Sewage treatment, Biofilm


The dispersal phase that completes the biofilm lifecycle is of particular interest for its potential to remove recalcitrant, antimicrobial tolerant biofilm infections. Here we found that temperature is a cue for biofilm dispersal and a rise by 5 °C or more can induce the detachment of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. Temperature upshifts were found to decrease biofilm biomass and increase the number of viable freely suspended cells. The dispersal response appeared to involve the secondary messenger cyclic di-GMP, which is central to a genetic network governing motile to sessile transitions in bacteria. Furthermore, we used poly((oligo(ethylene glycol) methyl ether acrylate)-block-poly(monoacryloxy ethyl phosphate)-stabilized iron oxide nanoparticles (POEGA-b-PMAEP@IONPs) to induce local hyperthermia in established biofilms upon exposure to a magnetic field. POEGA-b-PMAEP@IONPs were non-toxic to bacteria and when heated induced the detachment of biofilm cells. Finally, combined treatments of POEGA-b-PMAEP@IONPs and the antibiotic gentamicin reduced by 2-log the number of colony-forming units in both biofilm and planktonic phases after 20 min, which represent a 3.2- and 4.1-fold increase in the efficacy against planktonic and biofilm cells, respectively, compared to gentamicin alone. The use of iron oxide nanoparticles to disperse biofilms may find broad applications across a range of clinical and industrial settings.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Iron, Antibiotic resistance, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Sewage treatment, Biofilm, Quorum sensing


The occurrence of intersex fish, where male reproductive tissues show evidence of feminization, have been found in freshwater systems around the world, indicating the potential for significant endocrine disruption across species in the ecosystem. Estrogens from birth control medications in wastewater treatment plant effluent have been cited as the likely cause, but research has shown that endocrine disruption is not solely predictable based on hormone receptor interactions. Many other non-hormone pharmaceuticals are found in effluent at concentrations orders of magnitude higher than estrogens, yet there is little data indicating the impacts of these other medications. The widely prescribed anti-diabetic metformin is among the most abundant of pharmaceuticals found in effluent and is structurally dissimilar from hormones. However, we show here that exposing fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) to a concentration of metformin found in wastewater effluent causes the development of intersex gonads in males, reduced size of treated male fish, and reduction in fecundity for treated pairs. Our results demonstrate that metformin acts as an endocrine disruptor at environmentally relevant concentrations.

Concepts: Endocrinology, Water pollution, Sewage treatment, Endocrine system, Endocrine disruptor, Hermaphrodite, Pimephales, Fathead minnow


Urban wastewater treatment plants (UWTPs) are among the main sources of antibiotics' release into the environment. The occurrence of antibiotics may promote the selection of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB), which shade health risks to humans and animals. In this paper the fate of ARB and ARGs in UWTPs, focusing on different processes/technologies (i.e., biological processes, advanced treatment technologies and disinfection), was critically reviewed. The mechanisms by which biological processes influence the development/selection of ARB and ARGs transfer are still poorly understood. Advanced treatment technologies and disinfection process are regarded as a major tool to control the spread of ARB into the environment. In spite of intense efforts made over the last years to bring solutions to control antibiotic resistance spread in the environment, there are still important gaps to fill in. In particular, it is important to: (i) improve risk assessment studies in order to allow accurate estimates about the maximal abundance of ARB in UWTPs effluents that would not pose risks for human and environmental health; (ii) understand the factors and mechanisms that drive antibiotic resistance maintenance and selection in wastewater habitats. The final objective is to implement wastewater treatment technologies capable of assuring the production of UWTPs effluents with an acceptable level of ARB.

Concepts: Gene, Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Antibiotic resistance, Sewage treatment, Microorganism, Penicillin


Onsite wastewater systems, or septic tanks, serve approximately 25% of the United States population; they are therefore a critical component of the total carbon balance for natural water bodies. Septic tanks operate under strictly anaerobic conditions, and fermentation is the dominant process driving carbon transformation. Nitrate, Fe(III), and sulfate reduction may be operating to a limited extent in any given septic tank. Electron acceptor amendments will increase carbon oxidation, but nitrate is toxic and sulfate generates corrosive sulfides, which may damage septic system infrastructure. Fe(III) reducing microorganisms transform all major classes of organic carbon that are dominant in septic wastewater: low molecular weight organic acids, carbohydrate monomers and polymers, and lipids. Fe(III) is not toxic, and the reduction product Fe(II) is minimally disruptive if the starting Fe(III) is added at 50-150mgL(-1). We used (14)C radiolabeled acetate, lactate, propionate, butyrate, glucose, starch, and oleic acid to demonstrate that short and long-term carbon oxidation is increased when different forms of Fe(III) are amended to septic wastewater. The rates of carbon mineralization to (14)CO(2) increased 2-5times (relative to unamended systems) in the presence of Fe(III). The extent of mineralization reached 90% for some carbon compounds when Fe(III) was present, compared to levels of 50-60% in the absence of Fe(III). (14)CH(4) was not generated when Fe(III) was added, demonstrating that this strategy can limit methane emissions from septic systems. Amplified 16S rDNA restriction analysis indicated that unique Fe(III)-reducing microbial communities increased significantly in Fe(III)-amended incubations, with Fe(III)-reducers becoming the dominant microbial community in several incubations. The form of Fe(III) added had a significant impact on the rate and extent of mineralization; ferrihydrite and lepidocrocite were favored as solid phase Fe(III) and chelated Fe(III) (with nitrilotriacetic acid or EDTA) as soluble Fe(III) forms.

Concepts: Redox, Soil, Sewage treatment, Wastewater, Nitrate, Septic tank, Imhoff tank, Septic drain field


This work critically reviews modeling concepts for standard activated sludge wastewater treatment processes (e.g., hydrolysis, growth and decay of organisms, etc.) for some of the most commonly used models. Based on a short overview on the theoretical biochemistry knowledge this review should help model users to better understand (i) the model concepts used; (ii) the differences between models, and (iii) the limits of the models. The seven analyzed models are: (1) ASM1; (2) ASM2d; (3) ASM3; (4) ASM3 + BioP; (5) ASM2d + TUD; (6) Barker & Dold model; and (7) UCTPHO+. Nine standard processes are distinguished and discussed in the present work: hydrolysis; fermentation; ordinary heterotrophic organisms (OHO) growth; autotrophic nitrifying organisms (ANO) growth; OHO & ANO decay; poly-hydroxyalkanoates (PHA) storage; polyphosphate (polyP) storage; phosphorus accumulating organisms PAO) growth; and PAO decay. For a structured comparison, a new schematic representation of these processes is proposed. Each process is represented as a reaction with consumed components on the left of the figure and produced components on the right. Standardized icons, based on shapes and color codes, enable the representation of the stoichiometric modeling concepts and kinetics. This representation allows highlighting the conceptual differences of the models, and the level of simplification between the concepts and the theoretical knowledge. The model selection depending on their theoretical limitations and the main research needs to increase the model quality are finally discussed. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 24-46. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Truth, Sewage treatment, Model, Heterotroph, Activated sludge, Autotroph