Nitrifying wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are more efficient than non-nitrifying WWTPs to remove several micropollutants such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides. This may be related to the activity of nitrifying organisms, such as ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOBs), which could possibly co-metabolically oxidize micropollutants with their ammonia monooxygenase (AMO). The role of AOBs in micropollutant removal was investigated with aerobic granular sludge (AGS), a promising technology for municipal WWTPs. Two identical laboratory-scale AGS sequencing batch reactors (AGS-SBRs) were operated with or without nitrification (inhibition of AMOs) to assess their potential for micropollutant removal. Of the 36 micropollutants studied at 1 μg l−1 in synthetic wastewater, nine were over 80% removed, but 17 were eliminated by less than 20%. Five substances (bisphenol A, naproxen, irgarol, terbutryn and iohexol) were removed better in the reactor with nitrification, probably due to co-oxidation catalysed by AMOs. However, for the removal of all other micropollutants, AOBs did not seem to play a significant role. Many compounds were better removed in aerobic condition, suggesting that aerobic heterotrophic organisms were involved in the degradation. As the AGS-SBRs did not favour the growth of such organisms, their potential for micropollutant removal appeared to be lower than that of conventional nitrifying WWTPs.

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