Assessing the pollutant removal efficiency of a wetland as a polishing treatment for municipal wastewater

Thumbnail Image
Mphuthi, Betty Refilwe
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Vaal University of Technology
Pollution of aquatic systems by wastewater containing pathogens, heavy metals and high concentrations of nutrients is of great concern due the ecological risks they impose. The toxic effects of metals may occur even at low concentrations because of potential bio magnification in the food chain. Excessive nutrients cause algal blooms which depletes oxygen and prevents sunlight from penetrating into the water, thereby killing fish and other aquatic organisms. This study investigated the pollutant removal efficiency of a riparian wetland located in Sebokeng, Emfuleni local municipality, South Africa. The study was carried out to assess the water quality of a wetland located downstream of the Sebokeng wastewater treatment plant by monitoring and analysing the physico-chemical parameters which included pH, temperature, electrical conductivity, nutrient levels (nitrates, phosphates, nitrites) and heavy metals. The water samples were collected from the effluent discharge of the treatment plant, upstream and downstream of the wetland. Plant uptake of heavy metals in a riparian wetland, nitrification as well as denitrification processes have been historically recorded as the main processes that contribute to the high removal of pollutants in a wetland. The contaminant concentrations of the influent and the effluent were used to estimate the wetland efficiency in improving the water quality that passes through it and its potential effects on improving the quality of irrigation waters. The heavy metals of interest included Al, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Pb, Mn and Zn. Most heavy metals within the wetland occurred at low concentrations (lower than detectable limits and within the discharge limits for irrigation purposes). The results indicate that the average removal efficiencies for Electrical Conductivity (EC), Total coliforms (TC), E. coli, BOD5, COD, TSS, carbonate hardness, aluminium, iron, manganese, copper, nitrite, nitrate, sulfate and ortho-phosphate were 43 %, 51%, 85%, 60%, 61%, 61%, 21%, 67%, 52%, 51%, 83%, 56%, 89%, 49% and 54% respectively. The study showed that this wetland can provide up to 89% removal efficiency of pollutants. Of particular significance was the high pathogen and nutrient removal efficiency. A t-test was performed in order to determine the statistical significance of the wetland pollutant removal efficiencies. All p-values calculated were well below 0.05 and the removal efficiencies are therefore considered statistically significant. For this particular ecosystem the findings show that there is no great concern about metal pollution since most of the metals tested for were below the minimum limit for irrigation stipulated by the South African water regulation department (DWAF 1996a). Therefore, the wetland effluent water qualifies for both agriculture and landscape irrigation. Future considerations in choosing to use wetlands as a polishing facility for wastewater treatment systems are highlighted in the study.
M. Tech. (Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Applied and Computer Sciences) Vaal University of Technology.
Wetlands, Physical parameters, Metal removal efficiency, Nutrients, Eutrophication