Biodegradation of pharmaceuticals in hospital wastewater by staged Moving Bed Biofilm Reactors (MBBR)

Monica Escola Casas, Ravi Kumar Chhetri, Gordon Tze Hoong Ooi, Kamilla Marie Speht Kaarsholm, Klaus Litty, Magnus Christenson, Caroline Kragelund, Henrik Rasmus Andersen, Kai Bester

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Hospital wastewater contributes a significant input of pharmaceuticals into municipal wastewater. The combination of suspended activated sludge and biofilm processes, as stand-alone or as hybrid process (hybrid biofilm and activated sludge system (Hybas™)) has been suggested as a possible solution for hospital wastewater treatment. To investigate the potential of such a hybrid system for the removal of pharmaceuticals in hospital wastewater a pilot plant consisting of a series of one activated sludge reactor, two Hybas™ reactors and one moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) has been established and adapted during 10 months of continuous operation. After this adaption phase batch and continuous experiments were performed for the determination of degradation of pharmaceuticals. Removal of organic matter and nitrification mainly occurred in the first reactor. Most pharmaceuticals were removed significantly. The removal of pharmaceuticals (including X-ray contrast media, β-blockers, analgesics and antibiotics) was fitted to a single first-order kinetics degradation function, giving degradation rate constants from 0 to 1.49 h− 1, from 0 to 7.78 × 10− 1 h− 1, from 0 to 7.86 × 10− 1 h− 1 and from 0 to 1.07 × 10− 1 h− 1 for first, second, third and fourth reactors respectively. Generally, the highest removal rate constants were found in the first and third reactors while the lowest were found in the second one. When the removal rate constants were normalized to biomass amount, the last reactor (biofilm only) appeared to have the most effective biomass in respect to removing pharmaceuticals. In the batch experiment, out of 26 compounds, 16 were assessed to degrade more than 20% of the respective pharmaceutical within the Hybas™ train. In the continuous flow experiments, the measured removals were similar to those estimated from the batch experiments, but the concentrations of a few pharmaceuticals appeared to increase during the first treatment step. Such increase could be attributed to de-conjugation or formation from other metabolites.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Research
Pages (from-to)293-302
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Hospital wastewater
  • MBBR
  • X-ray contrast media
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Removal rate constants

Cite this