Long term/low dose formalin exposure to small-scale recirculation aquaculture systems

Lars-Flemming Pedersen, Per Bovbjerg Pedersen, Jeppe L. Nielsen, Per H. Nielsen

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Repetitive long term formalin application at low dose was investigated to determine the effect on formaldehyde removal rate, biofilter nitrification and the microbial composition in small-scale recirculation aquaculture biofilters. Six pilot-scale recirculation aquaculture systems holding rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) were designated to formalin treatments (C-0 at 10 and 20mg/L formaldehyde) on a daily or weekly basis. Formaldehyde removal rates were measured over 10 weeks, during which biofilter nitrification rates were measured in terms of standardized NH4Cl spiking events. The rates were positively correlated to the amount and frequency of formalin treatment. In systems with regularly low formalin dosage, the formaldehyde removal rate increased up to tenfold from 0.19 +/- 0.05 to 1.81 +/- 0.13 mg/(L h). Biofilter nitrification was not impaired in systems treated with formalin on a daily basis as compared to untreated systems. In systems intermittently treated with formalin, increased variation and minor reductions of ammonium and nitrite oxidation rates were observed. Nitrifying bacteria were screened by specific gene probes using fluorescence in situ hybridization and quantified by digital image analysis. The relative abundance of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) was up to 5.4% of all Bacteria (EUB) positive cells, predominantly Nitrosomonas oligotropha. Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), mainly consisting of Nitrospira sp. were found in all biofilm samples up to 2.9%, whereas Nitrobacter sp. was not detected. The relative abundances of AOB and NOB in the untreated system were generally higher compared to the system exposed to formalin. Low dose formalin in recirculated aquaculture systems proved to be a possible treatment strategy, as the effect on nitrification was minimal. Since formaldehyde was steadily removed by microorganisms, available biofilter surface area, hydraulic retention time a:id temperature can be used to predict removal and hence estimate e.g. effluent concentration, (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAquacultural Engineering
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-7
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Treatment strategy
  • Ammonia- and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria
  • Nitrification
  • Biofilter
  • Effluent
  • Formaldehyde
  • Fluorescence in situ hybridization


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