Nutrient Nitrogen And Phosphorus Removal

In the past decade, concern about the water quality of natural systems directly receiving sewage discharge has increased. The focus has been directed to preserving non-flowing or semistagnant waters such as lakes, inlets, and bays. Receiving stream problems include the introduction of pathogenic organisms, floatable debris, hypoxic conditions, or interference with the health of marine resources. However, the greatest concern is the acceleration of eu-trophic conditions in these surface waters.

Eutrophication is the natural aging process of a body of water as biological activity increases (Water Pollution Control Federation 1983). Eutrophic waters are characterized by high concentrations of aquatic weeds and algae. These organisms eventually die, sink to the bottom, and decay. Consequently, this cycle increases the sediment oxygen demand which decreases the DO in the lower water levels. Additionally, eutrophication is enhanced by the large day-night cycling of DO that accompanies increased photosynthesis and respiration (Metcalf and Eddy, Inc. 1991). The acceleration of eutrophication is directly linked to increased nutrient loadings from sewage treatment plant discharges.

Phosphorus and nitrogen are the two major nutrients contributing to eutrophication. In most cases, these nutrients are growth-limiting; algae can no longer grow if these nutrient pools are depleted. Therefore, environmental engineers consider the removal of phosphorus and nitrogen from point sources, such as sewage treatment plants, a cost-effective and appropriate method for controlling the level and extent to which eutrophication occurs.

However, eutrophication is not the only problem caused by these nutrients. Ammonia is toxic in small concentrations to some aquatic life. The oxidation of ammonia to nitrite/nitrate can severely deplete the DO concentration in a body of water. Nitrite, which has a greater affinity for hemoglobin than oxygen and thus replaces it in the bloodstream, has been found to cause methemoglobine-mia, or "blue baby" disease, in infants (U.S. EPA 1975; Peavy, Rowe, and Tchobanoglous 1985). Phosphates, in concentrations as low as 0.2 mg/l, interfere with the chemical removal of turbidity in drinking water (Walker 1978).

Due to increased nutrient loadings as well as elevated public awareness and consequent demand for protection of the world's water resources, the research and development of processes that remove phosphorus and nitrogen from wastewater have advanced considerably. Most of the interest has been in the manipulation of ambient condi tions to enhance biological mechanisms responsible for nutrient removal. Consequently, both municipal and industrial facilities use many wastewater treatment processes to comply with federal and state regulations.

Nutrient removal processes can be grouped into two main categories: biological and physiochemical systems. Biological processes can be further divided into fixed-film and suspended-growth systems. Recently, many treatment facilities have been required to incorporate some degree of nutrient removal since the majority of plants built in the United States during the 1970s were for organic and SS (BOD and TSS, respectively) removal only. Although applications exist for fixed-film and physiochemical nutrient removal processes, suspended-growth systems have received the most attention. Therefore, this section focuses on suspended-growth activated-sludge processes. It reviews the biological mechanisms responsible for nutrient removal as well as different treatment processes.

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