The inhibitory effects of free ammonia (FA) and free nitrous acid (FNA) on the catabolic and anabolic processes of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter were investigated using a method that allows decoupling the growth and energy generation processes. Lab-scale sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) were operated for the enrichment of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter. Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization (FISH) analysis showed that the reactors were 82% and 73% enriched with Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter, respectively. Batch tests were carried out to measure the oxygen uptake rate (OUR) by the enriched cultures at various FA and FNA levels, in the presence (OURwithCO2) or absence (OURwithoutCO2) of inorganic carbon (CO2, HCO3 and CO32−). FA up to 16.0 mgNH3-N.L−1 was not found to have any inhibitory effect on either the catabolic or anabolic processes of the Nitrosomonas culture, but both these processes were inhibited by FNA. While an FNA level of 0.40–0.63 mgHNO2-N.L−1 inhibited the energy production capability of Nitrosomonas by 50%, the growth process of the culture was completely inhibited by FNA at a concentration of 0.40 mgHNO2-N.L−1. Both FA and FNA were found to have strong inhibition on the anabolic processes of Nitrobacter, but with limited inhibitory effects on the catabolism of this culture. The biosynthesis of Nitrobacter was totally inhibited at an FA level of 6.0 mgNH3-N.L−1 (or above) or an FNA level of 0.02 mgHNO2-N.L−1 (or above). At the same level of FA, the energy production capability of Nitrobacter was only inhibited by 12%, whereas an FNA level of up to 0.024 mgHNO2-N.L−1 did not show any inhibition on the energy production of Nitrobacter. Further, these inhibitory effects appears to be much stronger on Nitrobacter than on Nitrosomonas, supporting that FA and FNA inhibition may play a major role in the elimination of nitrite oxidizing bacteria in processes treating wastewater containing a high level of nitrogen.

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