Utilization of the French system of vertical wetlands for treating raw sewage keeps increasing, but there is still limited consolidated information on their long term use in tropical countries. Under these conditions, there are indications that surface area requirements can decrease, whilst still keeping a satisfactory performance. However, variations in the operational mode and the role of the surface organic deposit layer under warm climatic conditions have not been fully investigated. The goal of this work was to evaluate the performance of a system comprised of only the first stage of the French system, with a further reduction of 1/3 of the area (utilization of only two units in parallel, instead of three) in terms of organic matter removal and nitrogen conversion, with one unit with a deposit layer accumulated over 9 years of operation, and the other unit without sludge layer, under Brazilian tropical conditions. The system was originally designed according to Cemagref/Irstea recommendations for the first-stage of the French system for the treatment of raw sewage generated by an equivalent population of 100 inhabitants. However, it was later on changed, and operated with only two units, using only 0.6 m2·pe−1. Feeding and resting periods were of 7 days each. In order to evaluate the influence of the sludge layer, the top sludge from one of the units was removed, and the performance of both units was compared by the Mann-Whitney test. The database comprises the wetland performance values in terms of dissolved oxygen (DO), redox potential (Eh), chemical oxygen demand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), NH4+-N and NO3+-N, covering a monitoring period of 15 months. The effluent DO concentrations were significantly lower in the unit with top sludge, but still sufficiently high in both units. Although there were some variations between both units, effluent concentrations of the major pollutants were not significantly different in the units with and without sludge, and removal efficiencies based on mean values were considered good, given the reduced area of the system: BOD (80% and 79%), TSS (85% and 82%), TKN (60% and 63%) for the units with and without sludge, respectively. Under Brazilian climatic conditions, with the reduced area and employing longer feeding cycles (7 days), the sludge accumulation rate (less than 1 cm·year−1) was lower compared to the French mean values.

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