Laboratory study of biological retention for urban stormwater management

Water Environ Res. 2001 Jan-Feb;73(1):5-14. doi: 10.2175/106143001x138624.


Urban stormwater runoff contains a broad range of pollutants that are transported to natural water systems. A practice known as biological retention (bioretention) has been suggested to manage stormwater runoff from small, developed areas. Bioretention facilities consist of porous soil, a topping layer of hardwood mulch, and a variety of different plant species. A detailed study of the characteristics and performance of bioretention systems for the removal of several heavy metals (copper, lead, and zinc) and nutrients (phosphorus, total Kjeldahl nitrogen [TKN], ammonium, and nitrate) from a synthetic urban stormwater runoff was completed using batch and column adsorption studies along with pilot-scale laboratory systems. The roles of the soil, mulch, and plants in the removal of heavy metals and nutrients were evaluated to estimate the treatment capacity of laboratory bioretention systems. Reductions in concentrations of all metals were excellent (> 90%) with specific metal removals of 15 to 145 mg/m2 per event. Moderate reductions of TKN, ammonium, and phosphorus levels were found (60 to 80%). Little nitrate was removed, and nitrate production was noted in several cases. The importance of the mulch layer in metal removal was identified. Overall results support the use of bioretention as a stormwater best management practice and indicate the need for further research and development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / pharmacokinetics
  • Cities
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Metals, Heavy / pharmacokinetics
  • Nitrogen / pharmacokinetics
  • Plants
  • Rain*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*
  • Water Pollutants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Water Pollution / prevention & control*


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Water Pollutants
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrogen