Copper deficiency can limit nitrification in biological rapid sand filters for drinking water production

Florian Benedikt Wagner, Peter Borch Nielsen, Rasmus Boe-Hansen, Hans-Jørgen Albrechtsen

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    Incomplete nitrification in biological filters during drinking water treatment is problematic, as it compromises drinking water quality. Nitrification problems can be caused by a lack of nutrients for the nitrifying microorganisms. Since copper is an important element in one of the essential enzymes in nitrification, we investigated the effect of copper dosing on nitrification in different biological rapid sand filters treating groundwater. A lab-scale column assay with filter material from a water works demonstrated that addition of a trace metal mixture, including copper, increased ammonium removal compared to a control without addition. Subsequently, another water works was investigated in full-scale, where copper influent concentrations were below 0.05 μg Cu L-1 and nitrification was incomplete. Copper dosing of less than 5 μg Cu L-1 to a full-scale filter stimulated ammonium removal within one day, and doubled the filter's removal from 0.22 to 0.46 g NH4-N m-3 filter material h-1 within 20 days. The location of ammonium and nitrite oxidation shifted upwards in the filter, with an almost 14-fold increase in ammonium removal rate in the filter's top 10 cm, within 57 days of dosing. To study the persistence of the stimulation, copper was dosed to another filter at the water works for 42 days. After dosing was stopped, nitrification remained complete for at least 238 days. Filter effluent concentrations of up to 1.3 μg Cu L-1 confirmed that copper fully penetrated the filters, and determination of copper content on filter media revealed a buildup of copper during dosing. The amount of copper stored on filter material gradually decreased after dosing stopped; however at a slower rate than it accumulated. Continuous detection of copper in the filter effluent confirmed a release of copper to the bulk phase. Overall, copper dosing to poorly performing biological rapid sand filters increased ammonium removal rates significantly, achieving effluent concentrations of below 0.01 mg NH4-N L-1, and had a long-term effect on nitrification performance.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWater Research
    Pages (from-to)280-288
    Number of pages9
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Water Science and Technology
    • Waste Management and Disposal
    • Pollution
    • Ecological Modeling
    • Ammonium
    • Biological filtration
    • Copper
    • Drinking water
    • Nitrification
    • Nutrient limitations


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