Understanding the fate of contaminants of emerging concern and their metabolites during biological activated carbon treatment of wastewater

PI: John Fox
Co-PI(s): Derick Brown
University: Lehigh University

The purpose of this work is to investigate the fate of Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) and their metabolites across BAC filters. CECs include pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and antimicrobial agents, hormones, byproduct compounds formed during water and wastewater treatment, and other trace synthetic organic compounds such as perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). These compounds are often present in domestic wastewater and then end-up in drinking water through indirect re-use, by treated wastewater being discharged to rivers and the downstream river water then being used as a water source. As direct reuse of wastewater is being investigated and moving towards application in water scarce regions, the fate of CECs through treatment processes is an important aspect of direct reuse treatment technologies.

One process technology which is favorably considered for wastewater treatment for direct and in-direct water reuse is biologically activated carbon (BAC). The benefit of BAC is that both biological and physiochemical methods work in tandem to remove trace organic compounds, such as CECs, from water. However, the current state of knowledge lacks understanding of the fate of CECs and their metabolites across BAC filters. For example, if one CEC enters the BAC it is possible for the biological processes to partially metabolize the parent compound and transform it into another compound, aka the metabolite. In some cases the metabolite of synthetic organic compounds is as toxic or more toxic than the parent compound. Understanding the fate of CECs and their metabolites across BAC filters is necessary to advance water treatment technologies for direct reuse. This work involves a collaboration between Lehigh University, Calgon Carbon Corporation, and the Bethlehem Wastewater Treatment Plant.