Water Reuse: Emerging Contaminants Elimination—Progress and Trends


This work concentrates on the review paper published by Ahmed et al. [1] which is dedicated to the elimination of emerging contaminants (ECs) using biological, chemical and hybrid techniques in effluents from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Endocrine disruption chemicals (EDCs) are better reduced by a membrane bioreactor (MBR), activated sludge, and aeration processes between various biological processes. Surfactants, EDCs and personal care products (PCPs) may be well reduced using activated sludge processes. Pesticides and pharmaceuticals manifested convenient reduction performances by biological activated carbon. Microalgae treatment techniques may diminish nearly all sorts of ECs to a certain degree. Additional biological methods were observed less efficient in dealing with ECs. Chemical oxidation techniques (like ozonation/H2O2, UV photolysis/H2O2, and photo-Fenton) may greatly eliminate up to 100% of pesticides, beta-blockers, and pharmaceuticals; at the same time, EDCs may be better reduced via ozonation and UV photocatalysis. Fenton method was observed less efficient in treating any sorts of ECs. A merged setup founded on ozonation pursued by biological activated carbon was manifested hugely efficacious in eliminating pesticides, beta-blockers, and pharmaceuticals. An integrated ozonation-ultrasound device may eliminate until 100% of numerous pharmaceuticals. Next research orientations to boost the elimination of ECs have been suggested.

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Ghernaout, D. and Elboughdiri, N. (2019) Water Reuse: Emerging Contaminants Elimination—Progress and Trends. Open Access Library Journal, 6, 1-9. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1105981.

1. Introduction

Emerging contaminants (ECs) are mainly synthetic organic chemicals that have been lately found in natural mediums [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. ECs are a huge and comparatively novel group of unregulated complexes [6] and may easily induce harmful influences in aquatic and human life at naturally pertinent levels, which are beginning an increasing worry [2] [7] [8]. They are the components predominately found in urban sewage, daily household products, pharmaceutical production facilities, wastewater, hospitals, landfills, and natural aquatic mediums [9] [10] [11]. ECs levels may extend from a few ng/L to a few hundred μg/L [10] [12]. Such levels in the aquatic medium may produce ecological hazards like interference with the endocrine system of high organisms, microbiological resistance, and accumulation in soil, plants, and animals [13], because such ECs are not totally eliminated throughout traditional wastewater treatment techniques [8] [14] [15]. ECs comprise mainly pharmaceutical organic pollutants, personal care products (PCPs), endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), surfactants, pesticides, flame-retardants, and industrial additives among others [1].

Pharmaceutical organic contaminants and PCPs contain analgesics, lipid regulators, antibiotics, diuretics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, stimulant drugs, antiseptics, analgesics, beta-blockers, antimicrobials, cosmetics, sunscreen agents, food supplements, fragrances, and their metabolites and transformation products [1]. They may touch water quality and greatly influence potable water supplies, ecosystem and human health [15] [16] [17]. Their environmental bioaccumulation worsens the abnormal hormonal control inducing reproductive impairments, diminished fecundity, augmented incidence of breast and testosterone cancers, and persistent antibiotic resistance [18]. More important, antibiotic residues may cause the development of antibiotic-resistant genes hugely favoring superbugs [8].

EDCs are exogenous substances or mixtures that modify the roles of the endocrine systems and then induce negative health influences in an intact organism, or its progeny or populations [19]. The impacts linked to EDCs are breakage of eggs of birds, fishes, and turtles, problems in reproductive systems, alteration in the immunologic system of marine mammals, a decrease of sperm of human organ, elevation in the incidence of breast, testicle and prostate cancers, and endometriosis [16]. Pesticides have immune-depressive impacts in fishes, mammals and may alter hemopoietic tissue of anterior kidney [20]. Surfactants can touch the physical stability of human growth hormone formulations and are responsible for the endocrine activity [1] [21].

A set of diverse physical, chemical, and biological techniques have previously been utilized to eliminate or decompose the remains of ECs during the past years [22] [23]. Biological treatment techniques remain the most largely employed for eliminating ECs, comprising activated sludge, constructed wetland, membrane bioreactor (MBR), aerobic bioreactor, anaerobic bioreactor, microalgae bioreactor [24] [25], fungal bioreactor, trickling filter, rotating biological reactor, nitrification, enzyme treatment, and biosorption. Several non-biodegradable organic micropollutants cannot be enough reduced employing biological treatment techniques [5] [26] [27]. Chemical treatment processes are also largely employed for decomposing such micropollutants [26] [27], involving traditional oxidation techniques like Fenton, ozonation, photolysis, and advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) [28] [29] like ferrate [30] [31] [32], photo-Fenton, photocatalysis, solar-driven processes, ultrasound process, and electro-Fenton method. Furthermore, numerous hybrid systems have newly been implemented to improve the elimination of a large span of ECS. Table 1 lists the benefits and dares of diverse methods for eliminating ECs [1].

The plurality of polar and semi-polar pesticides and pharmaceuticals will stay partitioned in the aqueous phase because of their comparatively elevated water solubility; for this reason, their reduction via physical processes like sedimentation and flocculation is not efficient [67] as it has been mentioned to be less than 10% [68] [69]. As a result, additional debates of those methods are not revised here. The debate of extra physical treatment techniques like membrane [70], reverse osmosis (RO), ultrafiltration (UF), microfiltration (MF), NF, and adsorption methods is also kept out from this work, even if such physical approaches can be a piece of hybrid or integrated treatment techniques for eliminating ECs [1] [71].

Therefore, this work aims to deeply assess the viability of biological, chemical, and hybrid treatment processes as a tool to eliminate ECs from wastewater. Particularly, the paper presents an outline of the efficacy of diverse wastewater treatment techniques for eliminating ECs. It also estimates traditional wastewater treatment methods along with amelioration and hybrid treatment techniques for reducing ECs. It also assesses the dares and the actual comprehension inabilities restricting the performance of biological and chemical treatment technologies. Several of the future research trends are as well proposed.

2. Biological Treatment Techniques

Biological treatment techniques have been largely used for eliminating ECs mostly via the pathway of biodegradation. Biodegradation is the method during which large molecular weight ECs are decomposed by microorganisms like bacteria [72] [73] [74] [75], algae [76] [77], and fungi into small molecules [6], and even biomineralized to simple inorganic molecules like water and carbon dioxide. During the traditional biodegradation method, microorganisms employ organic complexes as first substrates for their cell development and induce

Table 1. Benefits and dares of diverse techniques in eliminating ECs [1].

enzymes for their ingestion [12] [78] [79] [80]. Several ECs are poisonous and resistant to microbial development thus blocking biodegradation, in which situation a growth substrate is required to keep microbial development for biodegradation, a phenomenon recognized as cometabolism [12]. Biodegradation techniques have conventionally been utilized in wastewater treatment devices for eliminating ECs [81] [82]. They may be classified into aerobic and anaerobic techniques. Aerobic implementations involve activated sludge, MBR, and sequence batch reactor. Anaerobic techniques implicate anaerobic sludge reactors and anaerobic film reactors. The wastewater features have a fundamental contribution in choosing biological techniques [9] [83]. The wastewater treatment methods may be largely categorized as traditional processes and non-traditional processes, which are depicted in next sections [1] [66] [84].

The decomposition potential of ECs is a function of the chemical and biological persistence of ECs, their physicochemical characteristics, the technique applied and running parameters. For the highly polar substances (such as most pharmaceuticals and their corresponding metabolites), the most substantial removal mode is via the biological conversion or mineralization by microbes. The elimination yields greatly depend upon the treatment method, the working factors, and pointed pollutants [85]. Distinguishing decomposition products in environmental samples is hard work since not only are they found at so small concentrations but also they are existing in complex matrices that may interfere with detection [85] [86].

More details about progress and challenges in traditional treatment methods may be found in [1].

3. Chemical Treatment Techniques

Biological wastewater treatment techniques may be efficacious in eliminating several categories of ECs following the target chemicals, nature of wastewater, and running parameters [1] [87]. For instance, polar pharmaceuticals and beta-blockers depicted changing reduction performances in diverse biological techniques. Thus, chemical treatment processes have to be examined as replacements with the objective of discovering appropriate finishing technologies to more eliminate ECs [88] [89]. Such techniques are largely described as aqueous phase oxidation processes founded on the intermediary of highly reactive chemical species [90]. Oxidation reactions have mainly been employed to complete rather than substitute classical setups and to ameliorate removing ECs [91]. Chemicals like chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, ozone as well as the integration of these oxidants involving transition metals and metal oxides based catalysts in the so-called AOPs are needed for eliminating ECs from wastewater [92] [93]. Moreover, an energy source like UV-vis radiation, electric current, solar [94], gamma-radiation, and ultrasound are also utilized [95] [96]. In AOPs, oxidizing ECs is founded on generating free radicals, especially, hydroxyl radicals that ease the transformation of contaminants to less poisonous and more decomposable compounds [95] [97]. The final goal of chemical oxidation is the mineralization of contaminants, with their transformation to carbon dioxide, water, nitrogen, and other minerals. The rate constants for most reactions implying hydroxyl radicals in water are frequently in the order of 106 - 109 M−1∙s−1 [1]. Chemical oxidation techniques may modify pharmaceuticals’ polarity and the number of functional groups, which in turn influence their functionality in the organisms.

Progress and dares in classical oxidation methods are well explained by Ahmed et al. [1].

4. Progress and Challenges in Hybrid Systems

The classical wastewater treatment methods are not appropriate for eliminating efficiently several ECs [98]. A collection of hybrid treatment techniques is mentioned in the literature. Throughout the past decade, huge ameliorations have been reached in their usage in wastewater treatment, to avoid the liberation of ECs into the aquatic environment by effluent discharge [99]. Most of the hybrid systems are composed of biological-based treatment setup pursued by some physical or chemical treatment devices. Chemical oxidation founded treatment, as ozonation is the most largely employed method to merge with the biological processes. Several illustrations of these integrations comprise ozonation assisted by biological activated carbon, MBR-RO/UF/MF/ozonation, filtration and activated sludge pursued by UF [1]. MF and UF are ever more being viewed as replacements to granular media filtration [100].

5. Future Tendencies

Diverse biological and chemical-founded processes may efficiently eliminate distinct ECs; however, there are up to this time insufficiencies in the total elimination of ECs. Several additional research domains are proposed in Table 2 [1].

6. Conclusions

The main points drawn from this work may be given as:

1) Various biological techniques were observed to boost the reduction performance of diverse categories of ECs. As an illustration, the traditional activated sludge method has manifested better reduction performances for surfactants, EDCs, and PCPs than trickling filter and biofilm reactors, nitrification and denitrification techniques. Biological activated carbon method has been mentioned with ameliorated performances in the reduction of pesticides, analgesics, and antibiotics. MBR process has been detected to be hugely efficient in eliminating EDCs, PCPs, and beta-blockers than constructed wetlands. The new microalgae founded technique has the most elevated performance in eliminating diverse classes of ECs particularly pharmaceuticals and PCPs, even if no information was published on their elimination of beta-blockers, antibiotics, and surfactants [1] [110].

Table 2. Ten investigation areas suggested for the future [1].

2) Chemical oxidation processes (like ozonation/H2O2, UV photolysis/H2O2, and photo-Fenton) have been observed to be the best techniques for reducing pesticides, beta-blockers, and pharmaceuticals. Ozonation and UV photocatalysis techniques are greatly efficacious in eliminating EDCs. The Fenton process has been illustrated to be the minimum efficient between all sorts of classical and AOPs treatment techniques. Reducing surfactants and PCPs via chemical techniques has not so far been well-tried [1].

3) Merged setups (like MBR pursued by RO, NF or UF) are better for eliminating EDCs and pharmaceuticals; however, they are less performant in reducing pesticides. Ozonation pursued by a biological activated carbon hybrid system has been found to be efficient in decreasing pesticides, beta-blockers, and pharmaceuticals. Ozonation pursued by ultrasound hybrid system may eliminate to 100% of some pharmaceuticals like salicylic acid, ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, cocaethylene, benzoylecgonine, enalapril, nor-benzoylecgonine, ketoprofen, atorvastatin, bezafibrate, clindamycin, sulfamethazine, and 4-aminoantipyrine. Additional hybrid systems founded on activated sludge pursued by UF or activated sludge pursued by gamma radiation are cost-effective for eliminating some EDCs, pesticides, and analgesic pharmaceuticals. Combined setups employing ultrafiltration, activated carbon pursued by the ultrasound process may be a better technology to deal with a large variety of ECs; however, they may not be cost-effective.


AOPs Advanced oxidation processes

ECs Emerging contaminants

EDCs Endocrine disruption chemicals

MBR Membrane bioreactor

MF Microfiltration

NF Nanofiltration

PCPs Personal care products

RO Reverse osmosis

UF Ultrafiltration

WWTP Wastewater treatment plants

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


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