Mechanisms for low concentrations phosphorus removal in secondary effluent were studied, and a process was developed using limestone filters (LF), submerged macrophyte oxidation ponds (SMOPs) and a subsurface vertical flow wetland (SVFW). Pilot scale experimental models were applied in series to investigate the advanced purification of total phosphorus (TP) in secondary effluent at the Chengjiang sewage treatment plant. With a total hydraulic residence time (HRT) of 82.52 h, the average effluent TP dropped to 0.17 mg L−1, meeting the standard for Class III surface waters. The major functions of the LF were adsorption and forced precipitation, with a particulate phosphorus (PP) removal of 82.93% and a total dissolved phosphorus (TDP) removal of 41.07%. Oxygen-releasing submerged macrophytes in the SMOPs resulted in maximum dissolved oxygen (DO) and pH values of 11.55 mg L−1 and 8.10, respectively. This regime provided suitable conditions for chemical precipitation of TDP, which was reduced by a further 39.29%. In the SVFW, TDP was further reduced, and the TP removal in the final effluent reached 85.08%.

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