Flocculant polymers are used to improve the efficiency of separation processes used in wastewater treatment. The subsequent fate and effects of these additives are uncertain, however, with some previous reports indicating them to be biodegradable while others indicate complete recalcitrance. The biodegradability of a common flocculant polymer was therefore evaluated, using both aerobic and anaerobic batch assays. Knowledge of the polymer's chemical composition also allowed degradation stoichiometries to be calculated for complete biodegradation and also for incomplete degradation to several hypothesized end products. Results showed conclusively that the polymer was subject to partial degradation by both aerobic and anaerobic cultures. Measured oxygen consumption under aerobic conditions, and gas production under anaerobic conditions, both indicate that the partial destruction of pendant cationic moieties occurs, but that the polymer's CH2 backbone remains essentially intact. These results allow seemingly contradictory previous reports to be explained. The findings are relevant to the environmental fate of these polymers as well as certain treatment process effects.

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