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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 38 No. 1, p. 149-156
    Received: July 10, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): jwilcox@unca.edu
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Removal of Organic Wastewater Contaminants in Septic Systems Using Advanced Treatment Technologies

  1. Jeffrey D. Wilcox *ad,
  2. Jean M. Bahra,
  3. Curtis J. Hedmanb,
  4. Jocelyn D. C. Hemmingb,
  5. Miel A. E. Barmanb and
  6. Kenneth R. Bradburyc
  1. a Dep. of Geology & Geophysics, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, 1215 W. Dayton St., Madison, WI 53706
    d current address: Dep. of Environmental Studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Asheville, One University Heights, CPO #2330, Asheville, NC 28804
    b Wisconsin State Lab. of Hygiene, 2601 Agriculture Dr., Madison, WI 53718
    c Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, 3817 Mineral Point Rd., Madison, WI 53705


The detection of pharmaceuticals and other organic wastewater contaminants (OWCs) in ground water and surface-water bodies has raised concerns about the possible ecological impacts of these compounds on nontarget organisms. On-site wastewater treatment systems represent a potentially significant route of entry for organic contaminants to the environment. In this study, effluent samples were collected and analyzed from conventional septic systems and from systems using advanced treatment technologies. Six of 13 target compounds were detected in effluent from at least one septic system. Caffeine, paraxanthine, and acetaminophen were the most frequently detected compounds, and estrogenic activity was detected in 14 of 15 systems. The OWC concentrations were significantly lower in effluent after sand filtration (p < 0.01) or aerobic treatment (p < 0.05) as compared with effluent that had not undergone advanced treatment. In general, concentrations in conventional systems were comparable to those measured in previous studies of municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) influent, and concentrations in systems after advanced treatment were comparable to previously measured concentrations in WWTP effluent. These data indicate that septic systems using advanced treatment can reduce OWCs in treated effluent to similar concentrations as municipal WWTPs.

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