The efficiency of cleaning procedures to remove the fouling deposit from the surface of NF membranes operating in the drinking water plant of Méry sur Oise (Val d'Oise, France) was assessed by a combination of chemical analysis and fluorescence microscopy. The ATR-FTIR spectra of the fouled membranes revealed the presence of biological matter at the membrane surface, mainly composed of polysaccharides, nucleic acids and proteins. IR bands corresponding to the membrane material were detected for stage 1 but not for stage 3. Confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) observations confirmed the microbial origin of the fouling deposit.

After chemical cleaning, the analysis of the inorganic foulants revealed a significant decrease of the inorganic content. Moreover, ATR-FTIR spectra of the fouled membranes were modified, mainly in a broad complex region corresponding to polysaccharides and nucleic acids. The amide bands were also altered for stage 1, and some peaks corresponding to the clean membrane appeared for stage 3 after cleaning. CLSM observations revealed a general decrease of the lectin staining for the two stages with some variations between lectins. A decrease of the DAPI staining indicative of the removal of some microbial cells was also observed for stage 1.

In conclusion, cleaning of the NF fouled membranes decreased significantly the inorganic foulants but only partially removed the organic fouling deposit characteristic of a microbial biofilm.

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