- Ecotoxicological assessment of advanced wastewater treatment technologies (2010)
- Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) do not eliminate micropollutants completely and are thus important point sources for these substances. In particular, concerns about en-docrine disrupting compounds in WWTP effluents give rise to the implementation of advanced treatment steps for the elimination of trace organic contaminants. The present study investigated ozonation (O3) and activated carbon treatment (AC) at two WWTPs. For an ecotoxicological assessment at WWTP Regensdorf, conventionally treated wastewater, wastewater after ozonation, and ozonated wastewater after sand filtration were evaluated in parallel via the fish early life stage toxicity test (FELST) using rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Additionally, a comparative toxicity evalu-ation of ozonated and activated carbon treated effluents was performed at the pilot scale treatment plant in Neuss (WWTP Neuss). For this purpose, four invertebrate tests and one higher plant toxicity test were selected to assess potential biological effects on or-ganisms [Lemna minor growth inhibition test, chironomid toxicity test with Chironomus riparius, Lumbriculus variegatus toxicity test, comet assay with haemolymph of the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), reproduction test with Potamopyrgus antipo-darum]. All in vivo assays were performed on site at the treatment plants in flow-through test systems. Furthermore, the present study investigated the effects of ozona-tion and activated carbon treatment on endocrine activities [estrogenicity, anti-estrogenicity, androgenicity, anti-androgenicity, aryl-hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonistic activity] with yeast based bioassays using solid phase extracted water samples. To evaluate the removal of in vitro non-specific toxicity, a cytotoxicity assay using a rat cell line was applied. The FELST at WWTP Regensdorf revealed a considerable developmental retardation of test organisms exposed to ozonated WW. This was accompanied by a significant decrease in body weight and length compared to reference water, to the conventionally treated WW, and to the ozonated water after sand filtration. Hence sand filtration obvi-ously prevents from adverse ecotoxicological effects of ozonation. An additional test – starting with yolk-sac larvae – resulted in a significant reduction of vitellogenin levels in fish exposed to ozonated wastewater compared to fish reared in conventionally treat-ed wastewater. This demonstrates the effective removal of estrogenic activity by ozonation. At WWTP Neuss, the reproduction test with the mudsnail P. antipodarum exhibited a decreased reproductive output after advanced treatment compared to conventional treatment. This indicates an effective estrogenicity removal by ozonation and activated carbon treatment and is confirmed by results of the yeast estrogen screen with a reduc-tion of in vitro estrogenic activity by > 75%. The L. variegatus test revealed a signifi-cantly enhanced toxicity after ozonation compared to conventional treatment, whereas this effect was reduced following subsequent sand filtration. When ozonation was applied, a significantly increased genotoxicity was observed, detected with the comet assay using haemolymph of the zebra mussel. Again, this effect was removed by subsequent sand filtration to the level of conventional treatment. Activated carbon treatment even resulted in a significant reduction of genotoxicity. At both treatment plants, adverse effects after ozonation may have been a result of the formation of toxic oxidation by-products. However, sand filtration reduced toxication effects, indicating that these oxidation by-products are readily degradable or adsorbable. The results point out that, in any case, ozonation should not be applied without subsequent biologically active post treatment appropriate for oxidation by-products removal (e.g. sand filtration). However, only activated carbon achieved a toxicity reduction compared to the conventional treated wastewater. Thus, it cannot be excluded that po-tential beneficial effects due to ozonation might be masked by residual toxic oxidation by-products passing the sand filter or ozonation is not as effective in toxicity removal as PAC treatment. The yeast based assays with solid phase extracted samples revealed an effective endo-crine activity removal during ozonation and activated carbon filtration (estrogenicity: 77 – 99%, anti-androgenicity: 63 – 96%, AhR agonistic activity: 79 – 82%). The cyto-toxicity assay exhibited a 32% removal of non-specific toxicity after ozonation com-pared to conventional treatment. Ozonation in combination with sand filtration reduced cytotoxic effects by 49%, indicating that sand filtration contributes to the removal of toxicants. Activated carbon treatment was the most effective technology for cytotoxici-ty removal (61%). Sample evaporation reduced cytotoxic effects by 52% (after activated carbon treatment) to 73% (after ozonation), demonstrating that volatile substances contribute considerably to toxic effects, particularly after ozone treatment. These results confirm an effective removal or transformation of toxicants with receptor mediated mode of action and non-specific toxicants during both investigated treatment steps. However, due to the limited extractability, polar ozonation by-products were neglected for toxicity analysis, and hence non-specific toxicity after O3 is underestimated. In the long run, only on-site comparisons at WW receiving water bodies (e.g. communi-ty analysis of fish, macroinvertebrates, plants, microorganisms) – before and after up-grading WWTPs – allow drawing environmentally relevant conclusions regarding bene-fits and risks of advanced WW treatment methods. Conclusively, the benefits and possible negative impacts have to be carefully evaluated to prove that not more environmental impact will be induced than removed by advanced treatment technologies as each additional treatment requires considerable amounts of energy, resources, and infrastructure facilities. Accordingly, comprehensive sustainable approaches for pollution prevention and wastewater treatment (e.g. source control and source separation) are preferable compared to end-of-pipe treatment systems.