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Occurrence, identification and removal of microplastic particles and fibers in conventional activated sludge process and advanced MBR technology

Lares, Mirka, Ncibi, Mohamed Chaker, Sillanpää, Markus, Sillanpää, Mika
Water research 2018 v.133 pp. 236-246
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, activated sludge, aquatic environment, membrane bioreactors, plastics, wastewater, wastewater treatment
Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are acting as routes of microplastics (MPs) to the environment, hence the urgent need to examine MPs in wastewaters and different types of sludge through sampling campaigns covering extended periods of time. In this study, the efficiency of a municipal WWTP to remove MPs from wastewater was studied by collecting wastewater and sludge samples once in every two weeks during a 3-month sampling campaign. The WWTP was operated based on the conventional activated sludge (CAS) process and a pilot-scale membrane bioreactor (MBR). The microplastic particles and fibers from both water and sludge samples were identified by using an optical microscope, Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) microscope and Raman microscope. Overall, the retention capacity of microplastics in the studied WWTP was found to be 98.3%. Most of the MP fraction was removed before the activated sludge process. The efficiency of an advanced membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology was also examined. The main related finding is that MBR permeate contained 0.4 MP/L in comparison with the final effluent of the CAS process (1.0 MP/L). According to this study, both microplastic fibers and particles are discharged from the WWTP to the aquatic environment.