Presently, water quantity and quality problems persist both in developed and developing countries, and concerns have been raised about the presence of emerging pollutants (EPs) in water. The circular economy provides ways of achieving sustainable resource management that can be implemented in the water sector, such as the reuse of drinking water treatment sludges (WTSs). This study evaluated the potential of WTS containing a high concentration of activated carbon for the removal of two EPs: the steroid hormones 17β-estradiol (E2) and 17α-ethinylestradiol (EE2). To this end, WTSs from two Portuguese water treatment plants (WTPs) were characterised and tested for their hormone adsorbance potential. Both WTSs showed a promising adsorption potential for the two hormones studied due to their textural and chemical properties. For WTS1, the final concentration for both hormones was lower than the limit of quantification (LOQ). As for WTS2, the results for E2 removal were similar to WTS1, although for EE2, the removal efficiency was lower (around 50%). The overall results indicate that this method may lead to new ways of using this erstwhile residue as a possible adsorbent material for the removal of several EPs present in wastewaters or other matrixes, and as such contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets.
Keywords: adsorption processes; circular economy; emerging pollutants; water treatment sludges.