Effluents and sludges from several municipal sewage treatment plants in Switzerland were analyzed for nonylphenol polyethoxylates (NPnEO, n=3-20), nonylphenol mono- and diethoxylate (NPlEO, NP2EO), corresponding nonylphenoxy carboxylic acids (NP1EC, NP2EC) and nonylphenol (NP). These chemicals derive from nonionic surfactants of the NPnEO-type, and specific analitical techniques were used to study their behaviour during mechanical-biological sewage and subsequent sludge treatment. The parent NPnEO-surfactants, with concentrations in raw and mechanically treated sewage from 400-2200 mg/m3, were relatively efficiently removed by the activated sludge treatment. The abundances of the different metabolites varied depending on treatment conditions. The refractory nature of NPl/2EO, NP and NPl/2EC was recognized. Both biotransformations and physico-chemical processes determine the behaviour and fate of nonylphenolic substances in sewage treatment.

Nitrilotriacetate (NTA) was found in primary effluents at concentrations between 430 and 1390 mg/m3. The various treatment plants showed different removal efficiencies for NTA depending on the operating conditions. Activated sludge treatment with low sludge loading rates and nitrifying conditions removed NTA with efficiencies between 95 and 99%. High sludge loading caused a decrease in NTA removal efficiencies from 70% to 39%.

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