Before wastewaters can be released into the environment, they must be treated to reduce the concentration of organic pollutants in the effluent stream. There is a growing concern as to whether wastewater treatment plants are able to effectively reduce the concentration of micropollutants that are also contained in their influent streams. We investigate the removal of micropollutants in treatment plants by analysing a model that includes biodegradation and sorption as the main mechanisms of micropollutant removal. For the latter a linear adsorption model is used in which adsorption only occurs onto particulates.
The steady-state solutions of the model are found and their stability is determined as a function of the residence time. In the limit of infinite residence time, we show that the removal of biodegradable micropollutants is independent of the processes of adsorption and desorption. The limiting concentration can be decreased by increasing the concentration of growth-related macropollutants. Although, in principle, it is possible that the concentration of micropollutants is minimized at a finite value of the residence time, this was found not to be the case for the particular biodegradable micropollutants considered.
For nonbiodegradable pollutants, we show that their removal is always optimized at a finite value of the residence time. For finite values of the residence time, we obtain a simple condition which identifies whether biodegradation is more or less efficient than adsorption as a removal mechanism. Surprisingly, we find that, for the micropollutants considered, adsorption is always more important than biodegradation, even when the micropollutant is classified as being highly biodegradable with low adsorption.