Di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) has commonly been found in the sludge of municipal wastewater treatment plants especially during anaerobic processing. It is slowly biodegradable under anaerobic conditions. Due to its high hydrophobicity, sorption-desorption processes can be rate-limiting for the compound biodegradation. In this study, the anaerobic biodegradation of DEHP was investigated through batch kinetic experiments and dynamic transitions of a continuous stirred tank reactor (CSTR) fed with secondary sludge contaminated with DEHP. A widely accepted model (ADM1) was used to fit the anaerobic digestion of secondary sludge and was properly extended to account for DEHP removal, in which mass transfer processes are also involved. It was shown that DEHP removal was limited by the transfer of DEHP within the solid fraction. The criterion selected for the distinction of the two sites was whether the compound sorbed in those sites was bioavailable for biodegradation or not. Thus, the aqueous phase and the surface of the biosolids were considered as suitable sites for the compound to be bioavailable and the main bulk of the solid matrix was regarded as sites, where the compound remains “protected” against biodegradation. The model, fitted to the batch experimental data, was able to predict DEHP removal in the CSTR operated at various HRTs.

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