Improving the biological nitrogen removal process in pharmaceutical wastewater treatment plants: A case study

M. Torrijos, J. Carrera, J. Lafuente

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4 Citations (Scopus)


The Biological Nitrogen Removal (BNR) process of some pharmaceutical wastewater treatment plants has important operational problems. This study shows that, in order to solve these problems, the design of industrial BNR processes should start by analysing three key parameters: the characteristics of the wastewater load, the determination of the maximum TKN removal rate and the detection of toxic or inhibitory compounds in the wastewater. A case study of this analysis in pharmaceutical wastewater is presented here. In this case, the conventional TKN analytical method does not make an accurate characterisation of the wastewater load because it measures a concentration of 100 mg TKN l-1 whereas the real concentration, determined with a modified TKN analytical method, is 150-500 mg TKN l-1. Also, the TKN removal of the treatment system is insufficient in some periods because it falls below legal requirements. This problem might be a consequence of the wrong characterisation of wastewater during the design process. The maximum TKN removal at 27 °C (24 mg N g VSS-1 d-1 or 197 mg N l-1 d-1) was evaluated in a pilot-scale plant. This value is six times greater than the average NLR applied in the full-scale plant. Finally, some of the components of the wastewater, such as p-phenylenediamine, might have inhibitory or toxic effects on the biological process. P-phenylenediamine causes a large decrease in the nitrification rate. This effect was determined by respirometry. This methodology shows that the effect is mainly inhibitory with a contact time of 30 min and if the contact time is longer, 14 hours, a toxic effect is observed. © Selper Ltd, 2004.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-431
JournalEnvironmental Technology (United Kingdom)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


  • Biological nitrogen removal
  • Inhibition or toxicity
  • Nitrification rate
  • Pharmaceutical wastewater
  • Respirometry


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