The removal of Co, Ni, Cu and Zn from synthetic industrial wastewater was studied in subsurface flow constructed wetland microcosms filled with gravel or a gravel/straw mixture. Half of the microcosms were planted with Phragmites australis and half were left unplanted. All microcosms received low-strength wastewater (1 mg L−1 of Co, Ni, and Zn, 0.5 mg L−1 Cu, 2,000 mg L−1 SO4) during seven 14-day incubation batches. The pore water was regularly monitored at two depths for heavy metals, sulphate, organic carbon and redox potential. Sorption properties of gravel and straw were assessed in a separate experiment. A second series of seven incubation batches with high-strength wastewater (10 mg L−1 of each metal, 2,000 mg L−1 SO4) was then applied to saturate the substrate. Glucose was added to the gravel microcosms together with the high-strength wastewater. Sorption processes were responsible for metal removal during start-up, with the highest removal efficiencies in the gravel microcosms. The lower initial efficiencies in the gravel/straw microcosms were presumably caused by the decomposition of straw. However, after establishment of anaerobic conditions (Eh∼−200 mV), precipitation as metal sulphides provided an additional removal pathway in the gravel/straw microcosms. The addition of glucose to gravel microcosms enhanced sulphate reduction and metal removal, although Phragmites australis negatively affected these processes in the top-layer of all microcosms.

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