In this study, ozonation treatment of C.I. Reactive Black 5 (RB5) was investigated at various operating parameters. The results showed that the aqueous solution initially containing 200 mg/L RB5 was quickly decolorized at pH 8.0 with an ozone dose of 3.2 g/h. Reaction intermediates with m/z 281, 546, 201, 350, 286 and 222 were elucidated using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, while sulfate ion, nitrate ion and three carboxylic acids (i.e., oxalic acid, formic acid, and acetic acid) were identified by ion exchange chromatography. Thus, the cleavage of the azo bond and the introduction of OH groups in the corresponding positions were proposed as the predominant reaction pathway. The detachment of sulfonic groups was also commonly observed during the ozonation treatment. The proposed degradation mechanism was confirmed by frontier electron density calculations, suggesting the feasibility of predicting the major events in the whole ozonation process with the computational method. Compared with RB5 degradation, the reduction of total organic carbon (TOC) proceeded much more slowly, and approximately 54% TOC was removed after 4 h of ozonation. Acute toxicity tests with Photobacterium phosphoreum showed that the toxicity of reaction solution was firstly increased and then decreased to a negligible level after 160 min.

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