Bacteria and viruses removal in slow sand filters

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Though slow sand filtration is one of the oldest and effective means of drinking water treatment, the mechanisms contributing to bacteria and viruses removal are not well understood. The lack of understanding of actual removal potential and different mechanisms occurring in the filter bed has limited the development of new filter design and operation. This research aims at assessing the bacteria and viruses removal capability of filter material in different depths from the top 40 cm of full-scale slow sand filter (SSF) operated for 436 days. In addition, the focus is to identify the key removal mechanisms that aid bacteria and viruses removal in the schmutzdecke.
The results show that three depths: 0-5, 5-20 and 20-35 cm contribute to E. coli removal of 0.55, 1.3 and 1.04 logs, PhiX174 removal of 0, 0.30 and 0.14 logs. The log reduction value of E. coli and PhiX174 is rather similar in different layers, even though the schmutzdecke is considered to be the critical component for E. coli removal. It indicated that the deeper layers are also important in a well-established SSF. No removal of PhiX174 was observed in 0-5 cm with a thick biofilm, which indicates that the thickness of a certain level would impact the performance of virus removal.
To determine mechanisms, filter material from 0-5 cm was operated under three conditions: active, inactive, and ignited condition. The results show E. coli removal of 0.68, 0.74, and 0.43 logs, PhiX174 removal of 0, 0, and 0.28 logs for active, inhibited, and ignited sand, respectively. Contrary to previous studies, no function of microbial mechanisms is observed for E. coli removal. That key mechanism might change with the different maturity levels of SSFs might be a possible reason. In addition, this may ascribe to incomplete microbial active inhibition. On the other hand, despite evidence that virus removal enhances with filter maturation, schmutzdecke did not improve PhiX174 removal. Poor virus removal may be attributed to higher interstitial velocity along with higher shearing forces caused by abundant biofilm within the schmutzdecke.