Fate and effect of alkyl benzyl dimethyl ammonium chloride in mixed aerobic and nitrifying cultures
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Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are widely used in commercial and consumer applications as disinfectants, fabric softeners, hair conditioners, and emulsifying agents. The massive production and utilization of QACs has led to their extensive discharge into the environment, raising concerns globally. Several studies have reported on potential risks and detrimental effects of QACs on the natural environment and public wastewater treatment plants. Biological treatment has been found to be an effective way to remove QACs and especially aerobic treatment processes can provide rapid biodegradation via a consortium of bacteria. Although extensive research has been conducted on the fate and effect of QACs, relatively little is known about their effect on aerobic biological treatment processes, especially on nitrification. Research was conducted on the fate and effect of alkyl benzyl dimethyl ammonium chloride (AB), a QAC widely used as disinfectant, in mixed aerobic and nitrifying cultures. The results of this study demonstrated that up to 50 mg/L AB was efficiently degraded in a mixed aerobic culture fed with dextrin and peptone, although trace residual AB levels were observed. Nitrification of the produced ammonia was complete at an AB concentration of 20 mg/L after an acclimation period, but was almost completely inhibited at 50 mg/L. Mixed aerobic cultures maintained only with AB as external nitrogen and carbon source achieved a high degree of AB degradation at both 20 and 50 mg/L. Ammonia oxidation by a nitrifying culture, enriched with ammonium chloride and sodium bicarbonate, was inhibited with increasing AB concentration and completely ceased at 15 mg/L AB. Degradation or utilization of AB was not observed for all tested AB concentrations between 2 to 20 mg/L. Based on these experimental results, and assuming non-competitive inhibition, a relatively low value of the AB inhibition coefficient was obtained, which indicates a relatively high susceptibility of the ammonia oxidizers to AB. The results of this study have significant implications for both engineered and natural systems relative to the fate and effect of QACs.