The impact of tertiary wastewater treatment on copper and zinc complexation.
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Tightening quality standards for European waters has seen a move towards enhanced wastewater treatment technologies such as granulated organic carbon treatment and ozonation. Although these technologies are likely to be successful in degrading certain micro-organic contaminants, these may also destroy compounds which would otherwise complex and render metals significantly less toxic. This study examined the impact of enhanced tertiary treatment on the capacity of organic compounds within sewage effluents to complex copper and zinc. The data show that granulated organic carbon treatment removes a dissolved organic carbon (DOC) fraction that is unimportant to complexation such that no detrimental impact on complexation or metal bioavailability is likely to occur from this treatment type. High concentrations of ozone (>1 mg O3/mg DOC) are, however, likely to impact the complexation capacity for copper although this is unlikely to be important at the concentrations of copper typically found in effluent discharges or in rivers. Ozone treatment did not affect zinc complexation capacity. The complexation profiles of the sewage effluents show these to contain a category of non-humic ligand that appears unaffected by tertiary treatment and which displays a high affinity for zinc, suggesting these may substantially reduce the bioavailability of zinc in effluent discharges. The implication is that traditional metal bioavailability assessment approaches such as the biotic ligand model may overestimate zinc bioavailability in sewage effluents and effluent-impacted waters.
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