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Desalination 249 (2009) 571–576

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j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / d e s a l

Slow sand filtration of UASB reactor effluent: A promising post treatment technique
Vinay Kumar Tyagi a, Abid Ali Khan a, A.A. Kazmi a, Indu Mehrotra a, A.K. Chopra b,⁎
Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India
Department of Zoology & Environmental Science, Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar, India

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The study was carried out to evaluate the feasibility of slow sand filtration as a promising post treatment
Accepted 11 December 2008 method for the up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor effluent. Laboratory scale filter column of
Available online 6 October 2009 10 cm diameter and 0.54 m sand media depth was used to study the process performance. It was found out
that slow sand filtration with 0.43 mm effective sand size is the most effective at a filtration rate of 0.14 m/h.
It is capable of removing 91.6% of turbidity, 89.1% of suspended solids (SS), 77% of chemical oxygen demand
(COD) and 85% of bio-chemical oxygen demand (BOD), 99.95% of total and fecal coliforms (TC and FC) and
Post treatment 99.99% of fecal streptococci (FS). Slow sand filters efficiently reduce the mass of suspended material and
Slow sand filtration extend the filter run for more time (7 days) at a hydraulic load of 0.14 m/h as compared to the hydraulic load
Suspended solids of 0.19 m/h and 0.26 m/h. Therefore, due to excellent effluent quality, it can be said that slow sand filtration
UASB would be a promising technology for the post treatment of small-scale UASB reactor effluent in developing
countries, where treated effluent can be reused for various recreational purposes i.e. gardening and
irrigation, as well as for safe discharge.
© 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction post treatment of anaerobic effluent is necessary to reduce these

parameters to the required level.
The great increase in water demand due to the continuous growth At present, UASB facilities in India are integrated with pond system
of human population has aroused a strong interest in wastewater for post treatment. However, due to low detention times, these
reuse as a way of industrial and municipal water supply. When integrated ponds are found to be ineffective for the removal of
appropriately treated and recycled, wastewater can become a feasible pathogens, BOD and TSS. Nevertheless, several studies show that
option as a water source. Furthermore, this alternative reduces the pathogenic microorganisms and BOD5 and TSS can be removed by
environmental impact [1]. various systems such as aerated lagoons, downflow hanging sponge
A major dilemma in this context is regarding the choice of an (DHS), rotating biological contractor, trickling filters, biological aerated
appropriate treatment technology to achieve optimal reuse of water filters [1,2,7,8]. Most of these processes require high energy and a huge
and nutrients at a minimal energy expense. Anaerobic treatment capital cost for operation and maintenance and in addition even the
doesn't require oxygen and therefore no energy input is required and effluent quality is not in compliance with the standards for the disposal.
in turn will yield energy in the form of biogas (Methane: CH4). Regarding the effluent quality, cost efficacy and operational
Anaerobic treatment plants have limited space requirements and simplicity, slow sand filtration can be considered as one of the most
therefore can be planned at locations within or just outside the city promising post treatment options. Various researchers investigated
[2]. In addition, due to low sludge production and better stability of the effectiveness of slow sand filters for tertiary treatment of
the sludge under anaerobic treatment, the cost involved in further wastewater at laboratory and pilot scale using different hydraulic
treatment of sludge can be considerably reduced [3]. loading and sand size, and suggest that slow sand filters are capable of
However, the residual concentration of organic (BOD and COD) removing BOD and SS, turbidity and total coliforms up to 86%, 68%,
and microbiological (quantified by fecal coliforms) pollutants in the 88% and over 99%, respectively [9–13]. Slow sand filters have been
anaerobic reactor effluent usually exceeds the maximum permissible used for the treatment of high quality surface waters [14–16], as well
level prescribed by the effluent discharge standards of most as for the treatment of secondary effluents [9,17–22]. The sand filters
developing countries including India [4–6]. From this standpoint, have multiple variables and have been conventionally designed on
hydraulic loadings as well as on organic loading rates. It is an
economical technique which requires less skilled manpower due to its
⁎ Corresponding author.
simplicity [23–27].
E-mail addresses: vinayiitr@rediffmail.com (V.K. Tyagi), abidkdce@iitr.ernet.in
(A.A. Khan), kazmifce@iitr.ernet.in (A.A. Kazmi), indumfce@iitr.ernet.in (I. Mehrotra), Although a lot of work has been carried out on slow sand filters as a
profakchopra@yahoo.co.in (A.K. Chopra). tertiary treatment process of biologically treated municipal sewage,

0011-9164/$ – see front matter © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
572 V.K. Tyagi et al. / Desalination 249 (2009) 571–576

not sufficient studies have been conducted regarding the post with black ribbon to prevent the growth of algae on the media. A
treatment of UASB reactor effluent. Therefore, the objective of this constant inflow was maintained by a peristaltic pump. The filter was
study was to investigate the performance of slow sand filter as post fed from the UASB reactor effluent, collected in a 100 L capacity plastic
treatment option for the UASB reactor effluent and its feasibility in tank. In order to maintain all the solids in suspension, UASB reactor
satisfying water reuse standards. The experiments have been carried effluent i.e. influent for slow sand filter column, was slowly and
out at the bench scale filter column. The performance has been continuously stirred at the rate of 70 rpm.
determined with respect to the removal of turbidity, SS, BOD, COD, The criterion applied for terminating the filter run was the
and coliforms bacteria (total and fecal) efficiency. attainment of head loss i.e. due to clogging of filter. The desired
flow rate could not be maintained over this head loss. Cleaning of the
2. Material and methods filter was done at the time of termination of the operation by
backwashing the filter. Slow sand filters are usually not backwashed
2.1. Set up of the experimental column but in this case it was necessary as the influent turbidity and SS
concentration were higher than the recommended values.
The principal apparatus employed in this investigation consists of The filter column was operated at different hydraulic loadings of
100 mm (10 cm) internal diameter vertical Perspex tube of 120 cm 0.14 m/h, 0.19 m/h and 0.26 m/h.
(1.2 m) in height, packed with mixed filter media to a height of 54 cm
(Fig. 1). 2.2. Sample collection
The column was filled with locally available natural sand. The
2500 g of sand was sieved mechanically on a set of sieves and sieve A UASB based sewage treatment plant of 38 MLD capacity at the
fractions were weighed. Ninety-three per cent of the sand was in full city of Saharanpur was selected for regular monitoring over a period
range of 0.212–0.425 mm grain size; the main fraction (with 74.4% of of 4 months (March 2007–June 2007). Grab samples of wastewater
total weight) had a grain size of 0.425 mm. were obtained at the outlet of UASB reactor.
Before filling it into the column, the sand was thoroughly washed
with distilled water to remove clay and other mineral contaminants 2.3. Sample analysis
from the sand particles and dried in an oven at 120 °C overnight.
The lower section of the column contains 11 cm depth of coarse Samples were collected from the outlet of filter column at the
gravel (4.75 mm) above 2 cm underdrain of spherical glass balls. The intervals of 6 h. As a result, four samples were obtained within 24 h.
coarse gravel was overlaid by 11 cm layer of 2 mm fine gravel which is All the samples were assayed for microbiological (total coliforms, fecal
followed by 22 cm of 1.18 mm coarse sand along with a 10 cm of coliforms, fecal streptococci) and physico-chemical parameters (COD,
0.15 mm fine sand at the top. The effective size (d10) and uniformity BOD, TSS and turbidity) as per Standard Methods [28].
coefficient (d60/d10) of the combined sand media were 0.43 mm and
2.35, respectively. 3. Results and discussion
The depth of the sand bed was so arranged that its top surface was
at a level with the flanged joint in the filter tube. A perforated PVC disc The range and average values of the physico-chemical and
was mounted on top for the inflow tube to the column in order to microbiological characteristics of the UASB reactor effluent used as
supply homogeneously wastewater to sand bed in column. An the influent for slow sand filter are reported in Table 1.
overflow opening port was attached at the top along the wall of filter
column. A T joint connection was inserted at the bottom of the filter 3.1. Determination of the optimal flow rate/hydraulic load
column to withdraw the filtered water and through which water is
added for cleaning the filter media. The Perspex tube was covered Filtration rate control is the key element in operation of filters. For
treatment of surface water, generally a filtration rate of 0.1 to 0.32 m/
h is recommended [29] but up to 0.6 m/h is reported in literature [30].
This study was conducted in two phases. The first phase employed the
optimization of flow rate. The filter was operated at three different
flow rates of 1.0 L/h, 1.5 L/h and 2.0 L/h, i.e. hydraulic loading of
0.14 m/h, 0.19 m/h and 0.26 m/h, respectively. The flow rate of slow
sand filter was optimized with respect to the head loss measurement
(as H2O) as well as residual total suspended solids (TSS) and BOD of
the treated effluent. Fig. 2 displays the head loss profile of 7 days
operational period at three selected flow rates. The shortest duration
(4 days) of filter operation was observed at a hydraulic load of 0.26 m/
h. The head loss development at a hydraulic load of 0.26 L/h and
0.19 m/h were observed faster than that of 0.14 m/h. The head loss at
a hydraulic load of 0.26 m/h and 0.19 m/h reached at 44 cm and 46 cm

Table 1
Characteristics of UASB reactor effluent.

Parameters Values (average)

pH 7.1–7.8 (7.73)
Turbidity (NTU) 35–60 (56.5)
TSS (mg/L) 110–180 (168)
COD (mg/L) 109–256 (120)
BOD (mg/L) 38–55(50)
Total coliforms (MPN/100 mL) 2.3 × 105–2.3 × 107 (4.3 × 106)
Fecal coliforms (MPN/100 mL) 4.3 × 104–9.3 × 106 (4.3 × 106)
Fecal streptococci (MPN/100 mL) 2.3 × 104–2.3 × 106 (2.3 × 106)
Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of laboratory scale slow sand filter column.
V.K. Tyagi et al. / Desalination 249 (2009) 571–576 573

Fig. 2. Head loss development in slow sand filter column at different flow rates
(hydraulic loadings).
Fig. 4. SS removal in slow sand filter column at different flow rates (hydraulic loadings).

H2O in a filter run of 90 h (app. 4 days) and 114 h (app. 5 days),

respectively. However, the longest duration (7 days) of filter 3.2. Effect of slow sand filtration
operation was observed at a hydraulic load of 0.14 m/h. At this
particular hydraulic load, the head loss development was observed Once the optimum flow rate has been determined, filter column
slowest (40 cm H2O in 7 days). was operated at a hydraulic load of 0.14 m/h in order to ascertain the
The observations revealed that slow sand filter column extend its efficiency of slow sand filtration with respect to the removal of
operation up to 40% more at a filtration rate (hydraulic load) of 1.0 L/ turbidity, SS, BOD, COD, total coliforms, fecal coliforms and fecal
h (0.14 m/h) in contrast to the flow rate of 1.5 L/h (0.19 m/h) and streptococci.
2.0 L/h (0.26 m/h). The filter run was terminated when the filter
column got fully clogged although the filtrate quality was still 3.2.1. Turbidity removal
acceptable (in terms of SS and BOD) for discharge in surface waters Turbidity is one of the most important parameters for monitoring
as well as for unrestricted irrigation. the performance of a filter. It is believed that turbidity serves as a
In all three cases of different flow rates (Figs. 3 and 4), the average carrier for nutrients and pathogens which can result in biological
SS and BOD of treated effluent was b30 mg/L at the time of filter activity.
termination and in order to meet the water reclamation and effluent The turbidity removal was observed to be significantly high and
discharge limits (SS: 100 mg/L and BOD: 30 mg/L) [32]. stable since the start of the experiment. The turbidity level in the filter
The BOD and SS removal efficiency of filter was observed to vary in influent ranged from 35 to 60 NTU (Avg. 56.5 NTU), whereas at a
the range of 34–95% and 37–94% (flow rate: 1 L/h); 29–88% and 26– particular operational period, the effluent turbidity levels lie in the
90% (flow rate: 1.5 L/h) and 27–82% and 22–85% (2.0 L/h), respec- range of 1.6 to 6.2 NTU (Avg. 2.9 NTU) during the entire study. This
tively. After 2 days of filter run, filter gave N80% BOD and SS removal may be due to the maturation of biological layer at the top of the sand
at a hydraulic load of 0.14 m/h. Almost 80% of the SS and BOD were media. Following the development of this layer, the purifying bacteria
removed at a hydraulic load of 0.14 m/h. This percentage removal of become well established and play an important part in the treatment
SS and BOD dropped only to 70% and 60% when hydraulic load was process. The percentage turbidity removal ranged from 77% to 96%
increased to 0.19 m/h and 0.26 m/h, respectively. Therefore, slow (Avg. 91.60%) during the entire study period. The average percentage
sand filters efficiently reduce the mass of suspended material and removal of turbidity i.e. 91.6 % in this study at the sand depth of 54 cm
extend the filter run for more time at a hydraulic load of 0.14 m/h as and effective size of 0.43 mm was better than the values reported by
compared to the hydraulic load of 0.19 m/h and 0.26 m/h. Thus, Al-Adham [12]. He reported a percentage turbidity removal of 88% for
lowering the flow rate increased the duration of the filter run without the smaller size of sand with an effective size of 0.23 mm and a sand
deteriorating the filter effluent quality. depth of 84 cm. Our results are concomitant with those reported by
Cleasby et al. [31] (97.5% turbidity removal), for surface water where
the influent turbidity concentration ranged from 0.35 to 18.1 NTU.
The observations suggest that using a combination of coarse and
fine sand in a deep bed, rather than fine sand in a shallow bed leads to
improve the efficiency.

3.2.2. Suspended solids

The concentration of suspended solids in the effluent of UASB
reactor was significantly high i.e. 110–180 mg/L (Avg. 168 mg/L) and
a complementary polishing was observed in sand column with an
average SS removal of 89.05% (range: 82–94%). However, the effluent
SS concentration was varying from 11 to 30 mg/L (Avg. 17 mg/L) after
36 h of filter run to entire study period. The observed SS removal of
89% in our study is significantly higher to those reported by Al-Adham
[12] i.e. only 68% at a hydraulic loading of 0.16 m/h and an effective
sand size of 0.23 mm. Our observations are in good agreement with
Ellis [9], as he observed almost similar (90%) removal of suspended
Fig. 3. BOD removal in slow sand filter column at different flow rates (hydraulic The effluent concentration of SS is in compliance with the Indian
loadings). standards of effluent discharge in surface water bodies [32].
574 V.K. Tyagi et al. / Desalination 249 (2009) 571–576

Fig. 5. SEM images: attached growth of (A) cocci and (B) rod shaped bacterial (C) diatoms (D) protozoa and (E) dense algal mat onto the sand particles.

3.2.3. BOD and COD removal concentrations of coliforms (TC and FC) and FS throughout the filter
As expected, the average removal of both BOD and COD during the run were 4.3 × 106 and 2.3 × 106 MPN/100 mL, respectively. Whereas,
first few hours (36 h) was modest i.e. only 43% and 34%, respectively. the lower effluent concentration of TC (Avg. 2.1 × 103 MPN/100 mL),
The average filtered BOD was 9.7 mg/L (Min.: 3.6 mg/L; Max.: FC (Avg. 1.3 × 103 MPN/100 mL) and FS (Avg. 3.8 × 102 MPN/100 mL)
11.5 mg/L), i.e. almost three times lower than the permissible limit was observed after 36 h of operation. The average percentage removal
of 30 mg/L [32]. Whereas, the average BOD removal was 85% (Min.77% of coliforms (TC and FC) and FS were observed 99.95% and 99.99%,
Max.: 93%) during a study period of 7 days. The observed removal respectively. That is significantly higher than 96% reported by Al-
efficiency of BOD is remarkably superior to the 35–45% removal of Adham [12] at a sand depth of 1.05 m which further indicates that the
BOD suggested in published results [23–25] of slow sand filter effective sand size of 0.43 mm and a greater height of sand bed
operation, whereas, similar to those (86%) reported by Al-Adham [12]. improved the removal rate of total coliforms. Cleasby et al. [31]
The overall COD concentration in filter effluent was measured as reported that the average percentage coliforms removal was over 99%
23.44 mg/L (Min.:15 mg/L; Max.: 27 mg/L). Slow sand filter was found using an effective sand size of 0.32 mm and sand depth of 94 cm. The
efficient in COD removal i.e. ranging from 71 to 83% (Avg. 79%) for the results of the present study are better when compared to the findings
majority of the operational period. At the end of the filter run, the BOD of Ellis [9] who reported the average percent removal of 97% for total
and COD removal efficiencies were 78 and 71%, whereas, the residual coliforms bacteria using the effective sand size of 0.30 mm and the
effluent concentration of BOD (11.5 mg/L) and COD (27 mg/L) was findings of Bellamy et al. [35] who reported that the average coliforms
observed under the permissible limit of effluent discharge [32]. removal of 97% using the effective sand size of 0.29 mm and sand bed

3.2.4. Bacterial removal

Bacterial dynamics in slow sand filters consist of growth, decay Table 3
and protozoa grazing [33]. Filtration was effective in reduction of fecal Results of paired t-test: two sample for means between turbidity, SS, COD, BOD and TC,
FC and FS.
coliforms bacteria and in no case did the effluent of either filter media
exceed the required geometric mean of 25 fecal coliforms/100 mL Variables TC FC FS
[34]. Samples for microbiological analysis were routinely collected at Turbidity Data paired
6 h interval from the outlet of filter column. The average influent r2 0.97 0.91 0.93
t-statistic 2.5 2.7 3.6
Table 2 t-critical 2.1 2.1 2.1
Correlation matrix for physico-chemical and microbiological variables measured from p b 0.05 b 0.05 b0.05
filter effluent. SS r2 0.97 0.97 0.91
t-statistic 4.2 4.2 4.4
Parameters Correlation coefficient, r t-critical 2.1 2.1 2.1
p b 0.05 b 0.05 b0.05
COD r2 0.94 0.96 0.82
Turbidity t-statistic 6.9 6.9 7.3
SS 0.97106 t-critical 2.1 2.1 2.1
COD 0.94738 0.96977 p b 0.05 b 0.05 b0.05
BOD 0.95123 0.94946 0.98451 BOD r2 0.94 0.92 0.80
TC 0.96539 0.96606 0.94082 0.94132 t-statistic 8.0 5.2 5.9
FC 0.91326 0.97435 0.95739 0.92035 0.94954 t-critical 2.1 2.1 2.1
FS 0.92568 0.90996 0.81513 0.79754 0.90924 0.87322 p b 0.05 b 0.05 b0.05
V.K. Tyagi et al. / Desalination 249 (2009) 571–576 575

depth of 97 cm. Our findings were also found superior pertaining to paired two sample mean t-test. Results obtained from the statistical
the 90% removal of coliforms reported by Al-Sawaf [11]. analysis of data are summarized in Table 3. The results obtained from
After 3 days of continuous filter run, the effluent FC concentration paired t-test between turbidity and TC indicate that the critical values of t
was observed below the permissible limit of 1000 MPN/100 mL (2.1) obtained from the t-distribution table at 5% probability level is lower
prescribed by WHO [36] for unrestricted irrigation. than the observed values of t-stat (2.5–3.6). Almost similar results were
The high coliforms removal efficiency achieved by slow sand filter is found between turbidity and FC, FS and hence null hypothesis is rejected.
partly explained by the slow filtration rate and fine effective size of the Thus, it can be concluded that the real and significant differences exist
sand, but is also attributed to biological processes in the layer of slime between the obtained experimental data for SS and TC, FC, FS in filter
material that accumulates above the sand surface (schmutzdecke) and effluent.
within the upper layers of the sand bed. Most of the purification occurred Similarly when paired t-tests were conducted between SS, COD
at or about the surface sand layer in the mixture of humus, sand, algae, and BOD in relation to TC, FC and FS, it was observed that the critical t
protozoa and metazoan referred as the “filter-skin schmutzdecke”. This values obtained from t-distribution table at 5% probability level are
biologically active schmutzdecke layer onto the top of sand media was quite lower than the observed t statistical values in all cases. Thus,
considered the major reason of such a high coliforms removal in slow sand null hypothesis is rejected in these cases too. Hence, it is concluded
filtration. The thickness of the schmutzdecke was approximately 0.5 cm that the differences that exist among the observed sets of experi-
after 2 days of filter operation and increased to 2.0 cm after 7 days on the mental data are quite obviously significant and not obtained by
filter bed. The SEM (Scan Electrone Microscopy) of the schmutzdecke layer chance. These interrelationships can be helpful in routine monitoring
was performed and overall some 10–15 micrographs at various as well as up gradation of slow sand filter efficiency in time.
magnifications were taken of sand grains. Although it was not possible
to draw any quantitative conclusions from these photographs the 4. Conclusions
impression was evident of a very dense biomass of attached solids on
the sand grains viewed. The bacteria of cocci and rod shapes, diatoms, Slow sand filtration could be a promising process for the post
protozoans (Paramecium sp.) are frequently present and dense growth of treatment of small-scale UASB effluent. The quality of filter effluent in
algal mat are apparent the general impression is of an abundance of life terms of turbidity, BOD, SS and coliforms could be achieved for reuse
into the schmutzdecke layer (Fig. 5). purposes. Filter runs time and head loss is found to be mainly
Due to the heavy growth of biomass the rate of removal is highest dependent on hydraulic loading rate. The maximum filter run of
in the upper part of filters i.e. caused by better oxygen conditions, 7 days was obtained at 0.15 m/h hydraulic loading. Development of
higher numbers of active protozoa, high bacterial biomass and smaller head loss was extremely small during the initial period of filter
pore sizes due to biological clogging. Adsorption onto the sand operation, which later increased exponentially and reaches its
particle surface and predation by protozoa are two major bacterial maximum value within 7 days. Furthermore, various pollution
immobilization processes. According to Ellis [9] the removal of indicators have been correlated in terms of turbidity, SS, COD, BOD,
coliforms organisms was achieved principally in the surface layer TC, FC and FS. All variables showed strong positive correlations with
but this removal also continued, sometimes substantially through the removal of each other in the sand filter which proved to be vital for
whole sand bed. The schmutzdecke removes natural organic matter, quick evaluation of microbial removals. The filter run of 7 days is
transforms synthetic organic compounds and retains pathogens, considered to be short as the average influent turbidity (56.5 NTU)
producing microbiologically safe water. was high for a slow sand filter operation. Thus, to overcome this
problem, roughing filters can be used to remove excessive turbidity
3.3. Interrelationships of physico-chemical and microbiological variables prior to SSF treatment. As, the gravel rock roughing filters have been
used for decades as a pre-treatment method for source waters subject
The relationships between physico-chemical (Turbidity, SS, COD to high fluctuations in turbidity.
and BOD) and microbiological variables (TC, FC and FS) were
investigated by regression analysis of the data obtained for filter
effluent during the filter run at a hydraulic load of 0.15 m/h. Table 2 List of symbols
depicted that the removal of turbidity, suspended solids and organic
pollutant (COD & BOD) appeared to be related to the reduction in The following symbols are used in this paper:
numbers of all types of indicator organisms (TC, FC & FS) with a
correlation coefficient r varying from 0.91 to 0.97 for turbidity and SS; BOD = bio-chemical oxygen demand
0.82–0.96 for COD and 0.80–0.94 for BOD. CPCB = Central Pollution Control Board
Our observations support the hypothesis that all the physico- FC = Fecal coliforms
chemical and microbial parameters exhibit a similar decreasing trend FS = Fecal streptococci
in slow sand filter as well as the decrease is driven by a common force. MPN = Most probable numbers
The removal of physico-chemical parameters in slow sand filters takes SS = Suspended solids
place by straining and attachment by/to medium and previously NTU = Nephlometric turbidity unit
removed particles. Almost similar pattern of removal is followed by PVC = Poly vinyl chloride
bacterial indicators i.e. by straining and attachment to biofilm growth UASB = Up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket
and capturing by predators (suspension feeders and grazers) [37,38]. WHO = World Health Organization
In order to test the significance of r values, t-distribution was
employed in all cases. At 5% probability level it was observed that the
values of t-stat are higher than the t-critical values (obtained from t- References
distribution table; Table 3) in all cases. It shows that the chances of
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