J Hazard Mater. 2021 May 24;418:126210. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126210. Online ahead of print.
Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are active ingredients of many disinfectants used against SARS-CoV-2 to control the transmission of the virus through human-contact surfaces. As a result, QAC consumption has increased more than twice during the pandemic. Consequently, the concentration of QACs in wastewater and receiving environments may increase. Due to their antimicrobial activity, high levels of QACs in wastewater may cause malfunctioning of biological treatment systems resulting in inadequate treatment of wastewater. In this study, a biocatalyst was produced by entrapping Pseudomonas sp. BIOMIG1 capable of degrading QACs in calcium alginate. Bioactive 3-mm alginate beads degraded benzalkonium chlorides (BACs), a group of QACs, with a rate of 0.47 µM-BACs/h in shake flasks. A bench-scale continuous up-flow reactor packed with BIOMIG1-beads was operated over one and a half months with either synthetic wastewater or secondary effluent containing 2-20 µM BACs at an empty bed contact time (EBCT) ranging between 0.6 and 4.7 h. Almost complete BAC removal was achieved from synthetic and real wastewater at and above 1.2 h EBCT without aeration and effluent recirculation. The microbial community in beads dominantly composed of BIOMIG1 with trace number of Achromobacter spp. after the operation of the reactor with the real wastewater, suggesting that BIOMIG1 over-competed native wastewater bacteria during the operation. This reactor system offers a low cost and robust treatment of QACs in wastewater. It can be integrated to conventional treatment systems for efficient removal of QACs from the wastewater, especially during the pandemic period.