Sterols (e.g. cholesterol) present in wool scouring effluent represent the most recalcitrant fraction in anaerobic treatment. This study was conducted to examine the feasibility of removal of this organic load through a denitrifying post-treatment stage. A stable cholesterol-denitrifying enrichment (CHOL-1) was obtained from sludge of a bench-scale upflow sludge bed (USB) denitrifying reactor integrated to a carbon and nitrogen removal system for sanitary landfill leachate. According to the amounts of cholesterol degraded and of nitrite and nitrogen gas formed, the capacity for complete cholesterol oxidation under anaerobic conditions by CHOL-1 can be assumed. Nitrite accumulation observed at a low C/N ratio outlines the importance of determining the optimal C/N ratio for adequate denitrifying reactor performance. The enrichment was partly identified with molecular analysis of cloned 16S rDNA sequences revealing the presence of two groups of bacteria belonging to the β subclass of the Proteobacteria. According to analysis of sequences, it can be inferred that a yet uncultivated new bacterium is the one responsible for cholesterol oxidation. Results of this study suggest that sludge from a denitrifying reactor treating leachate is potentially useful in a combined anaerobic-anoxic system for degradation of cholesterol that remains after methanogenic treatment.

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