The removal of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in activated sludge was evaluated using two laboratory-scale bioreactors, coupled or not with a disintegration system (sonication). Mass balances performed on each system underlined that PAHs removal was significantly improved after sludge disintegration, especially for the higher molecular weight PAHs studied, which tended to adsorb to suspended matter. A model was developed in order to study the effect of sludge disintegration on the content of dissolved and colloidal matter (DCM), and to predict the potential impacts on PAHs availability and degradation. Results showed that this new model was efficient for capturing apparent degradation improvement trends and for discriminating between the involved mechanisms. This study showed that DCM content increased after sludge disintegration, and proved to be the main driver for improving PAHs apparent degradation.

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