Pharmaceutically active compounds: Their removal during slow sand filtration and their impact on slow sand filtration bacterial removal

Matteo D'Alessio, Bunnie Yoneyama, Marek Kirs, Veljo Kisand, Chittaranjan Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Slow sand filtration (SSF) has been widely used as a means of providing potable water due to its efficacy, low cost, and minimal maintenance. Advances in analytical instrumentation have revealed the occurrence of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in surface water as well as in groundwater. It is unclear if the presence of these compounds in the feed water can interfere with the performances of an SSF unit. The aim of this work was to examine i) the ability of two SSF units to remove six PhACs (caffeine, carbamazepine, 17-β estradiol [E2], estrone [E1], gemfibrozil, and phenazone), and ii) the impact of these PhACs on the removal of bacteria by two SSF units. The presence of PhACs in feed water for SSF can occur in surface waters impacted by wastewater or leakage from sewers and septic tanks, as well as in developing countries where unregulated use and improper disposal are prevalent. Two pilot-scale SSF units were used during the study. Unit B1 was fed with stream water with 1% of primary effluent added, while unit B2 was fed with stream water alone. Although limited removal (<10%) of carbamazepine, gemfibrozil, and phenazone occurred, the complete removal of caffeine, and the partial removal (11-92%) of E2 and E1 were observed in the two SSF units. The results of this study suggest that the occurrence of the selected PhACs, probably estrogens and caffeine, in the feed water at 50μgL-1 affected the ability of the schmutzdecke to remove total coliform and Escherichia coli. The bacterial removal achieved within the schmutzdecke dropped from 95% to less than 20% by the end of the study. This decrease in removal may be related to the change in the microbial community within the schmutzdecke. A diverse microbial community, including Bacteroidetes and several classes of Proteobacteria, was replaced by a microbial community in which Gammaproteobacteria was the predominant phylum (99%). Despite the low removal achieved within the schmutzdecke, removal of total coliform and E. coli greater than 99% occurred after both SSF units throughout the study. Bacterial removal occurred in the upper half of the sand filter. This was probably due to a diverse microbial community established in the packing material, in which Bacteroidetes (13-25%), Acidobacteria (7-17%) and several classes of Proteobacteria (35-52%) (Alpha-, Beta-, Delta-, and Gammaproteobacteria) were the predominant phyla.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-135
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Aug 5 2015


  • Bacterial removal
  • PhACs
  • Schmutzdecke
  • Slow sand filtration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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