A laboratory-scale, mass-balance study was carried out on the transformation of nitrogenous pollutants in four vertical flow wetland columns. Landfill leachate containing low organic matter, but a high concentration of ammoniacal-nitrogen, was treated under dissolved oxygen concentrations close to saturation. Influent total nitrogen (TN) comprised ammoniacal-nitrogen with less than 1% nitrate and nitrite, negligible organic nitrogen, and very low BOD. Nitrification occurred in three of the four columns. There was a substantial loss of total nitrogen (52%) in one column, whereas other columns exhibited zero to minor losses (<12%). Nitrogen loss under study conditions was unexpected. Two hypotheses are proposed to account for it: (1) either the loss of TN is attributed to nitrogen transformation into a form (provisionally termed α-nitrogen) that is undetectable by the analytical methods used; or (2) the loss is caused by microbial denitrification or deammonification. By elimination and stoichiometric mass balance calculations, completely autotrophic nitrogen-removal over nitrite (CANON) deammonification is confirmed as responsible for nitrogen loss in one column. This result reveals that CANON can be native to aerobic engineered wetland systems treating high ammonia, low organic content wastewater.

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