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Presented at the 20th Annual USEPA National Operator Trainers Conference Buffalo, NY, June 8, 2003. ACTIVATED SLUDGE MICROBIOLOGY PROBLEMS AND THEIR CONTROL Michael Richard, Ph.D. Sear-Brown Fort Collins, CO CONTENTS I. Introduction II. Microbiology Problems and Their Causes 1. Poor Floc Formation, Pin Floc and Dis
   1 Presented at the 20 th  Annual USEPA National Operator Trainers Conference Buffalo, NY, June 8, 2003. ACTIVATED SLUDGE MICROBIOLOGY PROBLEMS AND THEIR CONTROL Michael Richard, Ph.D. Sear-Brown Fort Collins, CO CONTENTS I. Introduction II. Microbiology Problems and Their Causes 1. Poor Floc Formation, Pin Floc and Dispersed Growth Problems 2. Toxicity 3. Nitrification and Denitrification Problems 4. Nutrient Deficiency and Polysaccharide Bulking and Foaming 5. Zoogloeal Bulking and Foaming 6. Filamentous Bulking 7. Filamentous Foaming III. Practical Control Methods for Filamentous Bulking and Foaming 1. Short Term Control Methods a. Sludge Juggling  b. Polymer Addition c. Chlorination 2. Long Term Control Methods a. Low Dissolved Oxygen Problems  b. Wastewater Septicity and Organic Acids c. Low F/M Conditions and Selectors d. Nutrient Deficiency e. Foaming Control IV. Summary V. References and Additional Information   2  INTRODUCTION  Many problems can develop in activated sludge operation that adversely affect effluent quality with srcins in the engineering, hydraulic and microbiological components of the process. The real heart of the activated sludge system is the development and maintenance of a mixed microbial culture (activated sludge) that treats wastewater and which can be managed. One definition of a wastewater treatment plant operator is a bug farmer , one who controls the aeration basin environment to favor good microbiology. This paper will discuss the types of microbiological problems that can occur in activated sludge operation. These include dispersed (non-settleable) growth, pin floc problems, zoogloeal  bulking and foaming, polysaccharide ( slime ) bulking and foaming, nitrification and denitrification problems, toxicity, and filamentous bulking and foaming. The best approach to troubleshooting the activated sludge process is based on microscopic examination and oxygen uptake rate (OUR) testing to determine the basic cause of the problem or upset and whether it is microbiological in nature. These methods are easy, fast and inexpensive compared to other approaches, and are generally understandable and accepted. MICROBIOLOGY PROBLEMS AND THEIR CAUSES Poor Floc Formation, Pin Floc and Dispersed Growth Problems  Basic floc formation, required for activated sludge operation due to the use of gravity clarifiers, is due to a growth form of many species of natural bacteria. Floc-forming species share the characteristic of the formation of an extracellular polysaccharide ( slime ) layer, also termed a glycocalyx. This material, which consists of polysaccharide, protein and sometimes cellulose fibrils, cements the bacteria together to form a floc. Floc formation occurs at lower growth rates and at lower nutrient levels, essentially starvation or stationary growth conditions. Floc-forming species may grow in a dispersed and non-settleable form if the growth rate is too fast. This latter condition, termed dispersed growth, occurs rarely in domestic waste activated sludge operation but occurs often in industrial waste treatment, generally due to high organic loading (high food to microorganism ratio (F/M) conditions). Here, no flocs develop and  biomass settling does not occur, resulting in a very turbid effluent. The correct remedial action for a dispersed growth problem is a reduction in the F/M of the system, usually done by raising the MLSS concentration. Dispersed growth problems often occur after a toxicity or hydraulic washout event when the activated sludge biomass is low and high F/M conditions prevail. Small, weak flocs can be formed in activated sludge that are easily sheared and subject to hydraulic surge flotation in the final clarifier leading to a turbid effluent. These small flocs, termed pin floc, consist only of floc-forming bacteria without a filament backbone and usually   3 are <50um in diameter. Pin floc occurs most commonly at starvation conditions -- a very low F/M and long sludge age. Chronic toxicity can also cause a pin floc condition. Free floating filaments can, at times, cause a dispersed growth problem. Here, the cause is filament-specific and is the same as for filamentous bulking (discussed below). Toxicity Toxic shocks can be a severe problem in activated sludge operation. In a recent study, toxicity upset was experienced by approximately 10% of 25 Colorado activated sludge plants examined during one year. Toxicity problems were found to be a larger problem in small communities compared to larger cities, due to the lack of dilution of toxic releases in small systems. Examples of toxicity events were the washing of cement or lime trucks to a manhole, dumping of congealed diesel fuel to the sewer system, and overload of small systems with septage (which contains a high amount of organic acids and sulfides which can be toxic). Sulfide toxicity to activated sludge is more common than currently recognized. Sulfide may srcinate from outside the activated sludge system, from septic influent wastewater or from septage disposal, or it may srcinate in-house , from anaerobic digester flows or from aeration  basins or primary or final clarifiers with sludge build-up and anaerobic conditions. Hydrogen sulfide toxicity is highly pH dependent, due to the H2S form being the toxic agent and not HS-. The pKa for H2S is 7.0, indicating higher toxicity at a pH of 7 or less when H2S is  predominant, and less toxicity as the pH increases above pH 7 and H2S dissociates. One mg/L of H2S reduces the activated sludge OUR by 50% at pH 7, and the H2S dose to give a 50% OUR reduction increases to 100 mg/L at pH values above pH 8. It is advised to add lime or other alkaline agent to the aeration basin to raise the pH to 7.5 or above if sulfide toxicity is occurring. Toxicity can be diagnosed microscopically, often in the following sequence: 1. an initial flagellate bloom ; 2. subsequent complete die-off of protozoa and other higher life forms; 3. biomass deflocculation, often accompanied by foaming; 4. loss of BOD removal; and 5. filamentous bulking upon process recovery. Toxic wastes generally do not favor filaments directly (except in the case of H2S); rather, upset conditions allow filaments to proliferate. For example, bulking by Sphaerotilus natans  frequently follows a toxic upset due to a high F/M condition. Here the true F/M value may be many-fold that calculated based on total biomass present, due to low viability of the biomass. While microscopic observations can diagnose toxicity after the fact, a better method is use of the OUR test to detect toxicity early.   4 The OUR of an activated sludge fed increasing amounts of a nontoxic waste will initially rise with increasing waste additions to the test bottle, followed by no further increase in OUR with even higher waste additions. In contrast, the OUR of an activated sludge fed a toxic waste may increase initially with increasing waste strength, but will decrease rather dramatically at waste additions above a toxicity threshold value. A useful definition of microbial death is when the fed OUR is less than the basal endogenous OUR. The OUR test is simple (all that is required is as a BOD bottle and a dissolved oxygen probe) and usually takes less than two hours to perform. The normal OUR of the activated sludge must  be known before hand, so run this test periodically to know what is normal for your plant. Nitrification and Denitrification Problems  Nitrification can create problems in activated sludge operation. Many plants experience an upset condition with dispersed growth and filamentous bulking every spring when warmer temperatures induce nitrification. Some plants experience a loss of chlorine disinfection during nitrification onset, due to a transient period (weeks) of nitrite build-up. Nitrite has a significant chlorine demand (one part nitrite consumes one part chlorine) while ammonia and nitrate do not. A large problem in some plants is a low pH (to as low as pH = 6) caused by extensive nitrification and low wastewater alkalinity. This often causes pin floc and high effluent turbidity. Some plants reduce aeration to reduce nitrification or add soda ash, lime or magnesium hydroxide as a source of alkalinity if this becomes a problem. The use of lower dissolved oxygen concentration (1.0 mg/L or less) to control nitrification is not without the risk of inducing filamentous bulking by low dissolved oxygen filaments. Another problem caused by nitrification is denitrification. Here, bacteria common in the activated sludge floc respire using nitrate in place of free oxygen when it is lacking and release nitrogen gas as a by-product. This gas is only slightly soluble in water and small nitrogen gas  bubbles form in the activated sludge and cause sludge blanket flotation in the final clarifier. An indication of the occurrence of denitrification can be obtained by holding the sludge in the settling test jar for several hours. If the sludge rises ( pops ) within 2 hours or less, denitrification  problems may be occurring. Denitrification problems are more prevalent during the warmer times of the year and can be more severe if a filamentous sludge is present, due to more extensive entrapment of the nitrogen gas bubbles by a filamentous sludge. Control of denitrification is either by control of nitrification (reduced sludge age or reduced aeration); or by reducing denitrification by removing the sludge faster from the final clarifier (increased RAS rates) or by increasing the dissolved oxygen concentration in the final clarifier. This can be done by increasing the aeration basin dissolved oxygen concentration especially at the clarifier end of the aeration basin. One method useful in severe cases is the addition of hydrogen peroxide as an oxygen source directly to the center well of the final clarifier.  Nitrification and denitrification problems can be particularly troublesome in industrial waste systems where ammonia is supplemented. Here, inorganic nitrogen (ammonia or nitrate) must be
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