Combined removal of organic micropollutants and ammonium in reactive barriers developed for managed aquifer recharge

Water Res. 2021 Feb 15:190:116669. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2020.116669. Epub 2020 Nov 25.


Groundwater is an important drinking water resource. To ensure clean drinking water, managed aquifer recharge (MAR) could be an attractive solution when recharging with treated wastewater. The installation of reactive barriers, e.g. with compost or other organic materials at MAR facilities, may improve pollutant removal. To link pollutant transformation processes and microbiology in reactive barriers, we simulated infiltration through different sand-compost mixtures using laboratory columns with depth-specific sampling of water and barrier material. We also evaluated the effect of inoculation with activated sludge. Our focus was on the simultaneous removal of organic micropollutants and nitrogen species, with parallel monitoring of the development of microbial communities. During 17 weeks of operation, the columns were fed with synthetic wastewater containing five organic micropollutants (1-2 µg/L each) and ammonium (2 mg N/L). Unique communities developed in the columns in relation to barrier material, with high effects of compost addition and minor effect of inoculation. Removal of the micropollutant paracetamol (acetaminophen) occurred in all columns, while sulfamethoxazole was only removed in columns with 50% compost. By contrast, limited removal was observed for sulfadiazine, carbamazepine and diuron, with the latter two displaying transient removal, attributed sorption. Oxygen was depleted within the top few cm of the columns when compost was present, but this was sufficient to remove all ammonium through nitrification. The fate of accumulated nitrate at deeper layers depended on the fraction of compost, with more compost leading to removal of nitrate by denitrification, but also by dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium, hampering the overall nitrogen removal efficiency. Introducing compost as reactive barrier in MAR facilities has a large effect on the microbial communities and processes, but whether it will provide overall cleaner water to the underlying aquifer is uncertain and will depend very much on the type of pollutant.

Keywords: Bacterial community composition; Column experiments; Compost; Groundwater; Pollutant degradation; Wastewater effluent.

MeSH terms

  • Ammonium Compounds*
  • Groundwater*
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Wastewater
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Ammonium Compounds
  • Nitrates
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical