A system composed of two horizontal subsurface flow constructed wetlands operating in parallel was evaluated for the post-treatment of UASB (upflow anaerobic sludge blanket) reactor effluent, for a population equivalent of 50 inhabitants per unit. One unit was planted with cattail (Typha latifolia) and the other was unplanted. The study was undertaken over a period of 4 years, comprising monitoring of influent and effluent constituents together with a full characterization of the behaviour of the units (tracer studies, mathematical modelling of chemical oxygen demand (COD) decay, characterization of solids in the filter medium). The mean value of the surface hydraulic load was 0.11 m3m−2d−1, and the theoretical hydraulic retention time was 1.1 d in each unit. Using tracer tests with 82Br, dispersion number (d) values of 0.084 and 0.079 for the planted and unplanted units were obtained, indicating low to moderate dispersion. The final effluent had excellent quality in terms of organic matter and suspended solids, but the system showed low capacity for nitrogen removal. Four-year mean effluent concentration values from the planted and unplanted units were, respectively: biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5): 25 and 23 mg L−1; COD: 50 and 55 mg L−1; total suspended solids (TSS): 9 and 9 mg L−1; N-ammonia: 27 and 28 mg L−1. The COD decay coefficient K for the traditional plug-flow model was 0.81 and 0.84 d−1 for the planted and unplanted units. Around 80% of the total solids present in the filter medium were inorganic, and most of them were present in the interstices rather than attached to the support medium. As an overall conclusion, horizontal subsurface flow wetlands can be a very suitable post-treatment method for municipal effluents from anaerobic reactors.

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