Advanced bio-oxidation of fungal mixed cultures immobilized on rotating biological contactors for the removal of pharmaceutical micropollutants in a real hospital wastewater
Hospital wastewater represents an important source of pharmaceutical active compounds (PhACs) as contaminants of emerging concern for urban wastewater treatment plants. This work evaluates a fungal biological treatment of a hospital effluent before discharging in the municipal sewer system. This treatment was performed in rotating biological contactors (RBCs) covered with wooden planks in order to promote the attachment of the fungal biomass. These bioreactors, initially inoculated with Trametes versicolor as white rot fungi, have created biofilms of a diversified population of fungal (wood-decaying fungi belonging to Basidiomycota and Ascomycetes) and bacterial (Beta-proteobacteria, Firmicutes, and Acidobacteria) microorganisms. The mixed fungal/bacterial community achieved a stable performance in terms of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous reductions for 75 days of continuous operation. Moreover, a remarkable removal of pharmaceutical micropollutants was accomplished especially for antibiotics (98.4 ± 0.7, 83 ± 8% and 76 ± 10 for azithromycin, metronidazole and sulfamethoxazole, respectively). Previous studies have proven a high efficiency of fungi for the removal of microcontaminants as a result of advanced bio-oxidation processes mediated by oxidizing hydroxyl radicals. This study evidences the development of a stable fungal-bacterial mixed culture over wooden-modified RBCs for in-situ removal of pharmaceutical compounds of hospital wastewater under non-sterile conditions and non-strict temperature control, avoiding periodical fungal inoculation due to destabilization and displacement of fungal cultures by indigenous wastewater bacteria.
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