Micropollutant-loaded powdered activated carbon released from waste water treatment plants : a risk for sediment-dwelling organisms?

Background: In order to protect aquatic environments and to reduce the presence of micropollutants in the global water cycle, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) often implement an additional treatment step. One of the most effective measures is the use of powdered activated carbon (PAC) as an adsorbent for micropollutants. This method provides sufficient elimination rates for several micropollutants and has been successfully employed in many WWTPs. Despite this success, there might be a drawback as the retention of the PAC in the WWTP can be challenging and losses of micropollutant-loaded PAC into the aquatic environment may occur. Upon emission, micropollutant-loaded PAC is expected to settle to the benthic zone of receiving waters, where sediment-dwelling organisms may ingest these particles. Therefore, the present study investigated possible adverse effects of micropollutant-loaded PAC from a WWTP as compared to unloaded (native) and diclofenac-loaded PAC on the sediment-dwelling annelid Lumbriculus variegatus.

Results: Native PAC induced the strongest effects on growth (measured as biomass) and reproduction of the annelids. The corresponding medium effective concentrations (EC50 ) were 1.7 g/kg and 1.8 g/kg, respectively. Diclofenac-loaded PAC showed lower effects with an EC50 of 2.5 g/kg for growth and EC50 of 3.0 g/kg for reproduction. Although tested at the same concentrations, the micropollutant-loaded PAC from the WWTP did not lead to obvious negative effects on the endpoints investigated for L. variegatus and only a slight trend of a reduced growth was detected.

Conclusion: We did not detect harmful effects on L. variegatus caused by the presence of MP-loaded PAC from a WWTP which gives an auspicious perspective for PAC as an advanced treatment option.


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