Microbial removal of the poorly degradable antibiotic sulfamethoxazole (SMX) from surface water was investigated in laboratory columns to identify critical factors for SMX removal during bank filtration, such as the substrate concentration, redox conditions and the availability of biodegradable DOC. About 60% of SMX at a start concentration of 0.25 μg/L in surface water were removed within 14 d of column passage under aerobic conditions while no removal occurred under anoxic conditions. The adaptation time was very long and was not completed after 2 years of operation. Adaptation was faster and SMX degradation was improved at an elevated concentration of SMX (4.5 μg/L) with 90% removal in 3.5 d under aerobic conditions. SMX removal was less effective under anoxic conditions (27% in 14 d) but increased again under anaerobic conditions (51% in 14 d). According to the half-lives for SMX determined from the column data (1-9 d aerobic, 49 d anoxic and 16 d anaerobic) it is essential to provide several weeks up to months of travel time in bank filtration to allow for the degradation of SMX, and likely, also for other poorly degradable compounds. Thus, the occurrence of SMX in groundwater samples does not indicate persistency of SMX but reflects insufficient residence time or unfavorable respective redox conditions. Adaptation times of years may also be required for new bank filtration sites to develop their full removal potential towards trace pollutants. Long operation time, a comparable concentration level and similar redox conditions as in the field appear to be essential to obtain realistic results with laboratory column experiments that can be transferred to real bank filtration sites.
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