The effect on NH4-N removal rates in nitrification biofilters of filtered biodegradable COD and particulate COD leaving predenitrification biofilters was studied in a lab scale plant configured with the separated system of biofilters for secondary nitrogen removal from urban wastewaters. Applying a typical COD load of 11 kg/m3.day to the predenitrification biofilter and maximizing its COD removal by adding nitrates or by operating an improved control of the internal recycle, only 60% removal of filtered biodegradable COD was found. This value corresponds to the complete removal of the readily biodegradable substrate (30% of influent filtered COD) and 36% of filtered slowly biodegradable substrate (50% of influent COD). The remaining 64% of the latter entered the nitrification biofilter, causing competition between heterotrophs and nitrifiers for dissolved oxygen in the inner layers of the biofilm. Consequently the nitrification rate had relatively low values (0.5 kgN/m3.d) at 14°C despite using dissolved oxygen levels of 6 mg/l. This behaviour may explain the lower nitrification rates obtained in some cases of nitrification biofilters compared to those in tertiary nitrification after activated sludge processes. The particulate COD entering the nitrification biofilter is associated with the suspended solids leaving the denitrification biofilter which are adsorbed by the external layers of the biofilm, increasing its thickness. The activity of the nitrifiers was affected because of a lack of oxygen when the thickness was left to grow considerably. Therefore no significant particulate COD effect is expected to occur as long as backwashing is carried out with the appropriate frequency.

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