Denitrifying woodchip bioreactor and phosphorus filter pairing to minimize pollution swapping

Laura E. Christianson, Christine Lepine, Philip L. Sibrell, Chad Penn, Steven T. Summerfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pairing denitrifying woodchip bioreactors and phosphorus-sorbing filters provides a unique, engineered approach for dual nutrient removal from waters impaired with both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). This column study aimed to test placement of two P-filter media (acid mine drainage treatment residuals and steel slag) relative to a denitrifying system to maximize N and P removal and minimize pollution swapping under varying flow conditions (i.e., woodchip column hydraulic retention times (HRTs) of 7.2, 18, and 51 h; P-filter HRTs of 7.6–59 min). Woodchip denitrification columns were placed either upstream or downstream of P-filters filled with either medium. The configuration with woodchip denitrifying systems placed upstream of the P-filters generally provided optimized dissolved P removal efficiencies and removal rates. The P-filters placed upstream of the woodchip columns exhibited better P removal than downstream-placed P-filters only under overly long (i.e., N-limited) retention times when highly reduced effluent exited the woodchip bioreactors. The paired configurations using mine drainage residuals provided significantly greater P removal than the steel slag P-filters (e.g., 25–133 versus 8.8–48 g P removed m−3 filter media d−1, respectively), but there were no significant differences in N removal between treatments (removal rates: 8.0–18 g N removed m−3 woodchips d−1; N removal efficiencies: 18–95% across all HRTs). The range of HRTs tested here resulted in various undesirable pollution swapping by-products from the denitrifying bioreactors: nitrite production when nitrate removal was not complete and sulfate reduction, chemical oxygen demand production and decreased pH during overly long retention times. The downstream P-filter placement provided a polishing step for removal of chemical oxygen demand and nitrite.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-139
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 2017


  • Denitrification
  • Nitrate
  • Phosphorus
  • Sorption
  • Woodchip

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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