Adsorption of organic substances on reverse osmosis (RO) membrane surfaces may form an organic film on the membrane, known as organic fouling, and cause flow-rate loss. This problem is mostly unavoidable as no pretreatment method exists for perfect removal of possible foulants, including organic compounds resulting from undesirable bioactivity. Understanding the characteristics of fouling layers is an essential step towards overall improvement of RO membrane operations. In this study, the organic fouling in RO membranes treating the effluent of a secondary treatment from an urban wastewater treatment plant was characterized. Headspace solid phase microextraction (HS-SPME) coupled with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry has been used for the first time, to provide valuable information of organic fouling. Different polarity SPME fibers were tested for this purpose. In addition, the characterization of the organic fouling obtained by HS-SPME was compared with the results obtained by extraction using several organic solvents. The results indicated that more compound families can be identified by HS-SPME than by organic solvent extraction. Moreover, complementary organic analyses were done for better understanding of the organic fouling in RO membranes, such as total organic carbon and loss on ignition.

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