Role of Ammonia Oxidation in Organic Micropollutant Transformation during Wastewater Treatment: Insights from Molecular, Cellular, and Community Level Observations

Qingxian Su*, Anna-Ricarda Schittich, Marlene Mark Jensen, Howyong Ng, Barth F. Smets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Organic micropollutants (OMPs) are a threat to aquatic environments, and wastewater treatment plants may act as a source or a barrier of OMPs entering the environment. Understanding the fate of OMPs in wastewater treatment processes is needed to establish efficient OMP removal strategies. Enhanced OMP biotransformation has been documented during biological nitrogen removal and has been attributed to the cometabolic activity of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and, specifically, to the ammonia monooxygenase (AMO) enzyme. Yet, the exact mechanisms of OMP biotransformation are often unknown. This critical review aims to fundamentally and quantitatively evaluate the role of ammonia oxidation in OMP biotransformation during wastewater treatment processes. OMPs can be transformed by AOB via direct and indirect enzymatic reactions: AMO directly transforms OMPs primarily via hydroxylation, while biologically produced reactive nitrogen species (hydroxylamine (NH2OH), nitrite (NO2-), and nitric oxide (NO)) can chemically transform OMPs through nitration, hydroxylation, and deamination and can contribute significantly to the observed OMP transformations. OMPs containing alkyl, aliphatic hydroxyl, ether, and sulfide functional groups as well as substituted aromatic rings and aromatic primary amines can be biotransformed by AMO, while OMPs containing alkyl groups, phenols, secondary amines, and aromatic primary amines can undergo abiotic transformations mediated by reactive nitrogen species. Higher OMP biotransformation efficiencies and rates are obtained in AOB-dominant microbial communities, especially in autotrophic reactors performing nitrification or nitritation, than in non-AOB-dominant microbial communities. The biotransformations of OMPs in wastewater treatment systems can often be linked to ammonium (NH4+) removal following two central lines of evidence: (i) Similar transformation products (i.e., hydroxylated, nitrated, and desaminated TPs) are detected in wastewater treatment systems as in AOB pure cultures. (ii) Consistency in OMP biotransformation (rbio, μmol/g VSS/d) to NH4+ removal (rNH4+, mol/g VSS/d) rate ratios (rbio/rNH4+) is observed for individual OMPs across different systems with similar rNH4+ and AOB abundances. In this review, we conclude that AOB are the main drivers of OMP biotransformation during wastewater treatment processes. The importance of biologically driven abiotic OMP transformation is quantitatively assessed, and functional groups susceptible to transformations by AMO and reactive nitrogen species are systematically classified. This critical review will improve the prediction of OMP transformation and facilitate the design of efficient OMP removal strategies during wastewater treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
ISSN0013-936X
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

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