Quantifying variability in removal efficiencies of chemicals in activated sludge wastewater treatment plants – a meta-analytical approach
Large variations in removal efficiencies (REs) of chemicals have been reported for monitoring studies of activated sludge wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). In this work, we conducted a meta-analysis on REs (1539 data points) for a set of 209 chemicals consisting of fragrances, surfactants, and pharmaceuticals in order to assess the drivers of the variability relating to inherent properties of the chemicals and operational parameters of activated sludge WWTPs. For a reduced dataset (n = 542), we developed a mixed-effect model (meta-regression) to explore the observed variability in REs for the chemicals using three chemical specific factors and four WWTP-related parameters. The overall removal efficiency of the set of chemicals was 82.1% (95% CI 75.2–87.1%, N = 1539). Our model accounted for 17% of the total variability in REs, while the process-based model SimpleTreat did not perform better than the average of the measured REs. We identified that, after accounting for other factors potentially influencing RE, readily biodegradable compounds were better removed than non-readily biodegradable ones. Further, we showed that REs increased with increasing sludge retention times (SRTs), especially for non-readily biodegradable compounds. Finally, our model highlighted a decrease in RE with increasing KOC. The counterintuitive relationship to KOC stresses the need for a better understanding of electrochemical interactions influencing the RE of ionisable chemicals. In addition, we highlighted the need to improve the modelling of chemicals that undergo deconjugation when predicting RE. Our meta-analysis represents a first step in better explaining the observed variability in measured REs of chemicals. It can be of particular help to prioritize the improvements required in existing process-based models to predict removal efficiencies of chemicals in WWTPs.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Modeling in Environmental Chemistry