The aim of this study was to examine the stability and bioavailability of different phosphorus fractions of pulp and paper mill effluents in order to assess the environmental benefits of reducing their phosphorus discharges. Two types of effluent were studied: activated sludge treated bleached kraft mill effluent and activated sludge treated paper mill effluent. Phosphorus was characterized on the basis of its solubility and chemical reactivity. The stability of particulate phosphorus was studied in long-term (6-8 weeks) degradation tests. The bioavailability of different phosphorus fractions was measured by algal growth potential tests.

In bleached kraft mill effluent (BKME) the proportion of dissolved phosphorus in relation to the total phosphorus was on an average 80%, and of this, approximately 80-90% was reactive phosphorus. During a 6-8 week incubation period some 60-70% of the particulate phosphorus in BKME was dissolved as soluble phosphorus, and most of it was of the reactive type. Approximately 90% of the dissolved phosphorus and 45% of the particulate phosphorus in BKME was biologically available phosphorus (BAP). Altogether some 80% of the total phosphorus in activated sludge treated BKME was available for algae either immediately or after inherent degradation.

The percentages of dissolved and particulate phosphorus of paper mill effluent (PME) total phosphorus were of the same order of magnitude as those of BKME, but less than 20% of the dissolved phosphorus was of the reactive type. Approximately 50-60% of the particulate phosphorus in PME was dissolved in degradation tests, and 90% of it was biologically available.

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