Tertiary treatment

Tertiary treatment

    • The purpose of tertiary treatment is to provide a final treatment stage to raise the effluent quality before it is discharged to the receiving environment (sea, river, lake, ground, etc.). More than one tertiary treatment process may be used at any treatment plant. If disinfection is practiced, it is always the final process. It is also called "effluent polishing".


    • Sand filtration removes much of the residual suspended matter. Filtration over activated carbon removes residual toxins.


    • Lagooning provides settlement and further biological improvement through storage in large man-made ponds or lagoons. These lagoons are highly aerobic and colonization by native macrophytes, especially reeds, is often encouraged. Small filter feeding invertebrates such as Daphnia and species of Rotifera greatly assist in treatment by removing fine particulates.

    Constructed wetlands

    • Constructed wetlands include engineered reedbeds and a range of similar methodologies, all of which provide a high degree of aerobic biological improvement and can often be used instead of secondary treatment for small communities. One example is a small reedbed used to clean the drainage from the elephants' enclosure at Chester Zoo in England.

    Nutrient removal

    • Wastewater may contain high levels of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. Excessive release to the environment can lead to a buildup of nutrients, called eutrophication, which can in turn encourage the overgrowth of weeds, algae, and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). This may cause an algal bloom, a rapid growth in the population of algae. The algae numbers are unsustainable and eventually most of them die.

    • The decomposition of the algae by bacteria uses up so much of oxygen in the water that most or all of the animals die, which creates more organic matter for the bacteria to decompose. In addition to causing deoxygenation, some algal species produce toxins that contaminate drinking water supplies. Different treatment processes are required to remove nitrogen and phosphorus.

    Nitrogen removal

    • The removal of nitrogen is effected through the biological oxidation of nitrogen from ammonia (nitrification) to nitrate, followed by denitrification, the reduction of nitrate to nitrogen gas. Nitrogen gas is released to the atmosphere and thus removed from the water.Nitrification itself is a two-step aerobic process, each step facilitated by a different type of bacteria. The oxidation of ammonia (NH3) to nitrite (NO2−) is most often facilitated by Nitrosomonas spp. (nitroso referring to the formation of a nitroso functional group). Nitrite oxidation to nitrate (NO3−), though traditionally believed to be facilitated by Nitrobacter spp. (nitro referring the formation of a nitro functional group), is now known to be facilitated in the environment almost exclusively by Nitrospira spp.

    • Denitrification requires anoxic conditions to encourage the appropriate biological communities to form. It is facilitated by a wide diversity of bacteria. Sand filters, lagooning and reed beds can all be used to reduce nitrogen, but the activated sludge process (if designed well) can do the job the most easily. Since denitrification is the reduction of nitrate to dinitrogen gas, an electron donor is needed. This can be, depending on the wastewater, organic matter (from faeces), sulfide, or an added donor like methanol.

    • Sometimes the conversion of toxic ammonia to nitrate alone is referred to as tertiary treatment. Many sewage treatment plants use axial flow pumps to transfer the nitrified mixed liquor from the aeration zone to the anoxic zone for denitrification. These pumps are often referred to as Internal Mixed Liquor Recycle pumps (IMLR pumps).

    Phosphorus removal

    • Phosphorus removal is important as it is a limiting nutrient for algae growth in many fresh water systems. It is also particularly important for water reuse systems where high phosphorus concentrations may lead to fouling of downstream equipment such as reverse osmosis.Phosphorus can be removed biologically in a process called enhanced biological phosphorus removal. In this process, specific bacteria, called polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs), are selectively enriched and accumulate large quantities of phosphorus within their cells (up to 20% of their mass). When the biomass enriched in these bacteria is separated from the treated water, these biosolids have a high fertilizer value.

    • Phosphorus removal can also be achieved by chemical precipitation, usually with salts of iron (e.g. ferric chloride), aluminum (e.g. alum), or lime. This may lead to excessive sludge productions as hydroxides precipitates and the added chemicals can be expensive. Chemical phosphorus removal requires significantly smaller equipment footprint than biological removal, is easier to operate and is often more reliable than biological phosphorus removal. Once removed, phosphorus, in the form of a phosphate rich sludge, may be stored in a land fill or resold for use in fertilizer.


    • The purpose of disinfection in the treatment of wastewater is to substantially reduce the number of microorganisms in the water to be discharged back into the environment. The effectiveness of disinfection depends on the quality of the water being treated (e.g., cloudiness, pH, etc.), the type of disinfection being used, the disinfectant dosage (concentration and time), and other environmental variables.

    • Cloudy water will be treated less successfully since solid matter can shield organisms, especially from ultraviolet light or if contact times are low. Generally, short contact times, low doses and high flows all militate against effective disinfection. Common methods of disinfection include ozone, chlorine, or ultraviolet light. Chloramine, which is used for drinking water, is not used in wastewater treatment because of its persistence.

    • Chlorination remains the most common form of wastewater disinfection in North America due to its low cost and long-term history of effectiveness. One disadvantage is that chlorination of residual organic material can generate chlorinated-organic compounds that may be carcinogenic or harmful to the environment. Residual chlorine or chloramines may also be capable of chlorinating organic material in the natural aquatic environment. Further, because residual chlorine is toxic to aquatic species, the treated effluent must also be chemically dechlorinated, adding to the complexity and cost of treatment.

    • Ultraviolet (UV) light can be used instead of chlorine, iodine, or other chemicals. Because no chemicals are used, the treated water has no adverse effect on organisms that later consume it, as may be the case with other methods. UV radiation causes damage to the genetic structure of bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens, making them incapable of reproduction.

    • The key disadvantages of UV disinfection are the need for frequent lamp maintenance and replacement and the need for a highly treated effluent to ensure that the target microorganisms are not shielded from the UV radiation (i.e., any solids present in the treated effluent may protect microorganisms from the UV light). In the United Kingdom, light is becoming the most common means of disinfection because of the concerns about the impacts of chlorine in chlorinating residual organics in the wastewater and in chlorinating organics in the receiving water. Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta, Canada also use UV light for their effluent water disinfection.

    • Ozone O3 is generated by passing oxygen O2 through a high voltage potential resulting in a third oxygen atom becoming attached and forming O3. Ozone is very unstable and reactive and oxidizes most organic material it comes in contact with, thereby destroying many pathogenic microorganisms. Ozone is considered to be safer than chlorine because, unlike chlorine which has to be stored on site (highly poisonous in the event of an accidental release), ozone is generated onsite as needed. Ozonation also produces fewer disinfection by-products than chlorination. A disadvantage of ozone disinfection is the high cost of the ozone generation equipment and the requirements for special operators.

    Odour removal

    • Early stages of processing will tend to produce smelly gasses, hydrogen sulfide being most common in generating complaints from nearby areas. Large process plants in urban areas will often contain a foul air removal tower, comprised of air circulators, a contact media with bio-slimes, and circulating fluids to biologically capture and metabolize the obnoxious gasses previously contained by reactor enclosures.
      • Package plants and batch reactors

Last modified: Wednesday, 29 February 2012, 9:53 PM