The potential of a membrane bioreactor (MBR) and a conventional activated sludge (CAS) system to remove polar micropollutants was evaluated using linear alkylbenzene sulfonates (LAS) as model components. Removal efficiencies over 97% were achieved in both reactor systems. The appearance of biological breakdown metabolites and the respirometric response of the sludges to LAS addition indicated that LAS removal was due to biodegradation, rather than sorption phenomena. The effect of operational variables, such as hydraulic retention time, LAS composition and hydrophobicity of the membrane used in the MBR, was negligible in the range tested. A stepwise increase in LAS influent concentration resulted in higher residual effluent concentrations but did not change the procentual removal efficiency. Because an increase in LAS and SPC effluent concentration occurred to a larger extent in the CAS than in the MBR under similar operating conditions, MBRs may turn out to be be more robust with respect to biological degradation of micropollutants than CAS.

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