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Transformation of diclofenac in hybrid biofilm–activated sludge processes

Jewell, Kevin S., Falås, Per, Wick, Arne, Joss, Adriano, Ternes, Thomas A.
Water research 2016 v.105 pp. 559-567
activated sludge, biomass, biotransformation, decarboxylation, dechlorination, diclofenac, hybrids, hydroxylation, monitoring, oxidation, reference standards, wastewater treatment, Switzerland
The biotransformation of diclofenac during wastewater treatment was investigated. Attached growth biomass from a carrier-filled compartment of a hybrid-MBBR at the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland was used to test the biotransformation. Laboratory-scale incubation experiments were performed with diclofenac and carriers and high-resolution LC–QTof-MS was implemented to monitor the biotransformation. Up to 20 diclofenac transformation products (TPs) were detected. Tentative structures were proposed for 16 of the TPs after characterization by MS2 fragmentation and/or inferring the structure from the transformation pathway and the molecular formula given by the high resolution ionic mass. The remaining four TPs were unambiguously identified via analytical reference standards. The postulated reactions forming the TPs were: hydroxylation, decarboxylation, oxidation, amide formation, ring-opening and reductive dechlorination. Incubation experiments of individual TPs, those which were available as reference standards, provided a deeper look into the transformation pathways. It was found that the transformation consists of four main pathways but no pathway accounted for a clear majority of the transformation. A 10-day monitoring campaign of the full-scale plant confirmed an 88% removal of diclofenac (from approximately 1.6 μg/L in WWTP influent) and the formation of TPs as found in the laboratory was observed. One of the TPs, N-(2,6-dichlorophenyl)-2-indolinone detected at concentrations of around 0.25 μg/L in WWTP effluent, accounting for 16% of the influent diclofenac concentration. The biotransformation of carriers was compared to a second WWTP not utilising carriers. It was found that in contact with activated sludge, similar hydroxylation and decarboxylation reactions occurred but at much slower rates, whereas some reactions, e.g. reductive dechlorination, were not detected at all. Finally, incubation experiments were performed with attached growth biomass from a third WWTP with a similar process configuration to Bad Ragaz WWTP. A similarly effective removal of diclofenac was found with a similar presence of TPs.