Humic acid pretreatment for enhancing microbial removal of metals from a synthetic 'wastewater'.
The presence of heavy metal ions in waste streams is one of the most pervasive environmental issues of present times. A rotating biological contactor (RBC) was used to investigate the potential capacity of microbial biofilms in remediation of the metal ion species from a mixed metal contaminated effluent solution containing Cr+3 , Pb+2 and Cu+2 , each at a concentration of 200 mg r1 • In the first part of this study the effectiveness of various support materials for the development of microbial biofilms capable of removing heavy metals from a synthetic effluent was investigated. EDX analysis showed that none of the support matrices investigated, viz. gravel, polyester batting and sand, adsorbed metal ions on their surfaces; hence, metal adsorption was due purely to microbial activities. The biofilms attached more firmly and uniformly to polyester batting than to gravel and sand. The characteristics of polyester batting which made it a superior support matrix were its surface roughness and porous hydrophilic nature, which provided a larger surface area for the adhesion of microorganisms and attraction of nutrients during the biofilm development process. The selective accumulation of metal ion specIes by various microbial populations grown as biofilm using polyester batting as support matrix in separate compartments of a single-stage RBC bioreactor was examined. Lead ions were readily accumulated by almost all the microbial biofilms tested. Fungus-dominated biofilms selectively accumulated chromium ions whereas biofilms comprising mainly bacteria more readily accumulated copper ions from the mixed metal contaminated effluent solution. However, where interactions between the bacterial and fungal components were encouraged the mechanical stability of the biofilms was enhanced so that large amounts of all three metal ion species were removed by this biofilm. The combined effect of a series of bench-scale columns containing liquid humic acid and a three stage RBC bioreactor on the removal of metal ion species from a mixed metal contaminated effluent was investigated. After seven days of treatment the combined system had removed approximately 99% of the Cr+3, 98% of the Pb+2 and 90% of the Cu+2 ions from the mixed metal contaminated synthetic effluent. Complexation of the metal ions with humic acid was the predominant factor accounting for approximately 68-86% Cr+3 , 70-86% Pb+2 and 53-73% Cu+2 removal levels within the columns. A large proportion of the remaining Cr+3 and Pb+2, but not of the Cu+2, was removed in compartment 1 of the RBC. This suggested that the presence of the former two metals in solution might have reduced the removal of the Cu+2 ions from the system. The removal of substantially large amounts of the competing ions chromium and lead during the initial stages of the treatment process meant that copper was successfully taken up in the second and third RBC compartments. Hence, the economy of the treatment process was improved as larger quantities of the metal ions were removed in a shorter period of time than was possible when using the individual treatments (humic acid-metal complexation and biofilm adsorption) separately. More than 75%,92% and 86% of the adsorbed Cr+3 , Pb+2 and Cu+2 ions, respectively, were recovered from the three RBC bioreactor compartments following repeated washing of the biofilms with 0.1 M HCI. This relatively easy desorption suggested that the metal ions were simply adsorbed onto the surfaces of the biofilm cells rather than being taken into the cytoplasm of the cells.