Effect of membrane fouling on the removal of micro-pollutants from municipal solid waste landfill leachate, i.e. 4-methyl-2,6-di-tert-butylphenol (BHT), bisphenol A (BPA), and bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), in membrane bioreactor (MBR) was investigated. Modifications of membrane surface properties were analyzed to determine their relationship with their removals. Membrane fouling was simulated with foulants of different particle sizes on cellulose acetate (CA) microfiltration membrane to investigate the effect of foulant characteristics on BHT, BPA, and DEHP retention in the filtration experiment. The rejection efficiencies of the organic micro-pollutants in the MBR were 82–97% by fouled membrane, and 70–90% by cleaned membrane. The fouled membrane provided higher rejection of micro-pollutants from about 5% for BPA and BHT to 19% for DEHP. These improvements were due to the modification of membrane surface characteristics in terms of surface morphology, and contact angle after membrane fouling. The degree of rejection was found to be dependent upon the characteristics of foulant deposited on CA membrane surface. Increasing foulant particle size and its density shifted the mechanism of micro-pollutant rejection from membrane pore narrowing to pore blocking and cake formation while increasing pollutant adsorption capacity onto the foulant layer.

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