Evaluation of Nitrification Inhibition Using Bench-Scale Rate Measurements, Profile Sampling, and Process Simulation Modeling


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Virginia Tech


The Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) operates thirteen treatment plants in the eastern Virginia area with a combined capacity of 231 million gallons per day (mgd). The Nansemond Treatment Plant (NTP) is one of the larger facilities, and is designed to treat 30 mgd using a 3-stage Virginia Initiative Process (VIP) biological nutrient removal (BNR) process. The majority of the influent is domestic, but there is also a large industrial contribution, particularly from a hog processing facility, landfill leachate, and significant loads from septage and grease deliveries (Bilyk et al, 2008). NTP is currently being upgraded to a 5-stage Bardenpho process to achieve improved total nitrogen (TN) removal. For several years starting in about 2001, NTP has experienced continuous and sporadic nitrification upsets that cannot be explained by plant operations events. Sporadic nitrification upsets are characterized by sharp increases in effluent ammonia and nitrite with decreases in nitrate concentrations due to reduced growth rates in bacteria. The result is reduced overall total nitrogen (TN) removal. Continuous inhibition is evidenced by a previous engineering report by Hazen and Sawyer, P.C. (2007), whereby it was suggested that the ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) maximum specific growth rate (μmax) be reduced from 0.9 to 0.57 days-1. This has significant implications in terms of the required aeration volume for consistent nitrification at cold temperatures.

The objective of this project was to determine whether the NTP influent wastewater does in fact exhibit inhibition to ammonia (AOB) and nitrite oxidizing bacteria (NOB), evaluated independently, and to determine the impact on polyphosphate accumulating organism activity (PAO). Because the historical operational experiences and data analysis suggested inhibited AOB and NOB activity, an investigation was initiated targeting the source of that inhibition. After conducting seventeen weeks of batch experiments the source of inhibition was not determined. Batch experiments however, did reveal other possible sources of inhibition including large amounts of chemical toilet waste received at NTP possibly containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs).

Due to available blower capacity during construction it was planned that nitrification would not be maintained during the fall of 2009. In an effort to stop nitrification, the solids retention time (SRT) was purposely reduced over a period of about one month (as wastewater temperature cooled) until additional blower capacity was available. This provided an opportunity to study baseline nitrification kinetics and determine the potential for continuous inhibition through profile sampling. Simulation modeling of the profile sampling and plant data was performed with Biowin 3.1 (EnviroSim, Ltd.) as a means for comparison and to generate μmax values for AOB to compare with the original design μmax of 0.57-1.

Profile sampling was conducted from the primary effluent to the secondary effluent with samples collected along the length of the BNR process. This was being done to address the following issues:

• Conduct baseline sampling prior to a more detailed nitrification inhibition study estimated to begin in May 2010, which will include influent sampling and the operation of bench-scale sequencing batch reactors. This will be used to establish "normal" COD, nutrient and DO profiles though the VIP process without (and possibly with) the impact of inhibitory conditions, specifically with respect to N conversions and P release and uptake along the process. • Evaluate the potential for nitrite accumulation in the process and its potential effect on aerobic phosphate uptake by phosphorus accumulating organisms (PAOs). • Evaluate the impact of sporadic ferric chloride addition to the biological process as a means of preventing effluent TP exceedances. • Evaluate the design μmax to the actual observed μmax for AOB through simulation modeling. • Compare modeling and observed profile data for signs of any continuous nitrification inhibition.

Experimental results from batch-rate testing confirmed the sporadically inhibitory nature of NTP primary effluent when combined with other stable nitrifying biomasses. Investigation into quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) which were contained in the chemical toilet waste suggested that QACs at higher concentrations caused some inhibition of NOB activity, but no significant impact on AOB activity. Profile sampling demonstrated no signs of sporadic or continuous nitrification inhibition or impact of nitrite accumulation and ferric chloride addition on biological treatment processes. Modeling of the profile data generated similar profiles; however, there were slight variations as the model predicted nitrification to stop earlier than what was actually observed. From the modeling it was also determined that the maximum specific growth rate (μmax) of ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) was in the range of 0.50 – 60 days-1. This supported batch and profile work that showed NTP PE exhibited some degree of continuous inhibition. Diurnal loadings however, were not accounted for in the modeling which could slightly underestimate the actual AOB μmax value. Several suspected inhibitors were eliminated as potential causes of inhibition, including waste from a hog processing facility, landfill leachate, the addition of ferric chloride, plant internal recycle streams, branches of the collection system, and chemical toilet disinfectants containing QACs.

References Bilyk, K., Cubbage, L., Stone, A., Pitt, P., Dano, J., and Balzer, B. 2008. Unlocking the Mystery of Biological Phosphorus Removal Upsets and Inhibited Nitrification at a 30 mgd BNR Facility. Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation Technical Conference and Exposition, 2008.

Hazen and Sawyer. 2007. Nansemond Treatment Plant Nutrient Reduction Improvement Technical Memorandum.



profile, Nitrification, Inhibition, Modeling