Controlling Nitrogen and Phosphorous in Wastewater | AIChE

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Controlling Nitrogen and Phosphorous in Wastewater

Environmental Management

Nutrient control technologies help maintain healthy water bodies and prevent eutrophication.


Figure 1. Eutrophication is the undesirable growth of algae and other aquatic plants that adversely impact bodies of water. Eutrophication from uncontrolled nutrient discharge can be seen in the Long Island Sound (1).

Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential nutrients for the growth and metabolism of microbial populations in biological wastewater treatment processes. Nitrogen supports the production of living tissues, while phosphorus supports cell growth. Both of these elements enter domestic wastewater streams as a result of various human activities. If discharged uncontrolled to a confined body of water (e.g., a lake, estuary, or bay), nitrogen and phosphorous can foster eutrophication — the undesirable aquatic growth of algae and other plants that adversely impact the quality and aesthetic of the body of water (Figure 1) (1). To prevent this, an increasing number of states in the U.S. have been implementing stringent effluent discharge regulations for nitrogen and phosphorus.

This article takes an in-depth look at nitrogen and phosphorus — two nutrients that are commonly discharged in wastewater. It examines nutrient control technologies and describes the biochemical reactions involved in treating nutrient-laden wastewater.

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