Removal of estrogens in municipal wastewater treatment under aerobic and anaerobic conditions: Consequences for plant optimization

Adriano Joss, Henrik Rasmus Andersen, Thomas Ternes, Philip R. Richle, Hansruedi Siegrist

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The removal of estrogens (estrone E1, estradiol E2, and ethinylestradiol EE2) was studied in various municipal wastewater treatment processes equipped for nutrient removal. A biological degradation model is formulated, and kinetic parameters are evaluated with batch experiments under various redox conditions. The resulting model calculations are then compared with sampling campaigns performed on different types of full-scale plant: Conventional activated-sludge treatment, a membrane bioreactor, and a fixed-bed reactor. The results show a >90% removal of all estrogens in the activated sludge processes. (Due to the analytical quantification limit and low influent concentrations, however, this removal efficiency represents only an observable minimum.) The removal efficiencies of 77% and greater than or equal to90% for El and E2, respectively, in the fixed-bed reactor represent a good performance in view of the short hydraulic retention time of 35 min. The first-order removal-rate constant in batch experiments observed for E2 varied from 150 to 950 d(-1) for a 1 gSS L-1 sludge suspension. The removal efficiency of E1 and EE2 clearly depends on the redox conditions, the maximum removal rate occurring under aerobic conditions when E1 was reduced to E2. Sampling campaigns on full-scale plants indicate that the kinetic values identified in batch experiments (without substrate addition) for the natural estrogens may overestimate the actual removal rates. Although this paper does not give direct experimental evidence, it seems that the substrate present in the raw influent competitively inhibits the degradation of E1 and E2. These compounds are therefore removed mainly in activated sludge compartments with low substrate loading. Theoretical evaluation leads us to expect that diffusive mass transfer inside the floc (but not across the laminar boundary layer) appreciably influences the observed degradation rates of E1 and E2, but not of EE2.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)3047-3055
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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