A large industrial activated sludge wastewater treatment plant had temporary problems with settling and dewatering of the sludge. Microscopical investigations revealed that the poor settling properties were not due to presence of filamentous bacteria, but poor floc properties. In order to characterise the changes in floc properties that led to settling and dewatering problems and to find reasons for this taking place, a comprehensive monitoring program was conducted during more than one year. The monitoring program included various measurements of floc settleability, floc strength and sludge dewaterability. The monitoring program revealed that a deterioration of the floc strength and the settling properties in the process tanks was closely connected to downstream dewatering problems and poor effluent quality. Particularly severe problems were observed a few weeks after the production at the factory had started after summer closedown. Possible reasons for the changes in floc properties in the process tanks were found by a) analysing change in wastewater composition by evaluating the different production lines in the industrial plant, b) evaluating the operation of the plant, and c) performing short-term laboratory experiments testing factors that could potentially affect floc properties (absence of oxygen, presence of sulphide, detergents, etc). Among several measured parameters, the use of floc strength measurements in particular proved useful to monitor the activated sludge floc properties at this industrial plant. The described strategy can be useful in general to find and solve many solid/liquid separation problems in activated sludge wastewater treatment plants.

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