Chemical phosphorus removal using metal (iron and aluminium) salts is frequently used to control effluent soluble phosphorus levels in wastewater treatment plants. In the Washington DC area effluent phosphorus requirements are extremely stringent to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Full-scale data from two plants in the area were analysed to establish phosphate behaviour in the presence of iron. Titration experiments and mathematical modelling were performed to determine the role of ferric phosphate and hydroxide precipitation and other mechanisms that may potentially be involved in phosphorus removal. Iron addition is described in the model using a chemical equilibrium approach extended with surface charges and adsorption. The model verifies key observations from full-scale data: (a) extremely low orthophosphate levels can be achieved over a wide range of pH values, (b) a mixture of ferric phosphate and ferric hydroxide precipitate is forming with the hydroxide acting as sorbent, (c) molar ratios of Fe/P (iron dosed to phosphate removed) vary widely (1.0–3.9) based on the technology used and residual phosphate levels. The model will be a useful tool for engineers to optimise preliminary, simultaneous and tertiary P removal, both for design and plant operation.

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