A down-flow hanging sponge reactor, constructed by connecting three identical units in series, was applied to the treatment of artificial wastewater containing phenol and ammonia under high salinity conditions (10.9 g-Cl/L). The theoretical hydraulic retention time (HRT) of each unit was 4 h (total HRT = 12 h). To enhance denitrification by effluent recirculation, the effluent recirculation ratio was increased in increments ranging from 0.0 to 2.0. The concentration of total ammonia nitrogen (TAN), NO2-N, and NO3-N in the final effluent as a proportion of the TAN in the influent was determined to calculate the unrecovered, or denitrification, proportion. The denitrification proportion of the reactor was equivalent to 19.1 ± 14.1% with no effluent recirculation; however, this was increased to 58.6 ± 6.2% when the effluent recirculation ratio was increased to 1.5. Further increasing the effluent recirculation ratio to 2.0 resulted in a decrease in the denitrification proportion to 50.9 ± 9.3%. Activity assays of nitrification and denitrification, as well as 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis, revealed that denitrification occurred primarily in the upper sections of the reactor, while nitrification increased in the lower sections of the reactor. Gene sequence analysis revealed that denitrification by Azoarcus-like species using phenol as an electron donor was dominant.

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