Franšais      print      e-mail    


Blanchard, B., R. Desjardins, F.G. Brière and Y. Béland (1990). Few hints to identify causes of biological solids settiing problems. Rev. Sci. Eau, 3 (3) : 241-260. [article in french]

Original title : Approche pour l'identification des causes de la mauvaise décantation des solides biologiques.

Full text (PDF)


Activated sludge is a microbiological aerated sewage treatment process which includes a secondary clarifier to separate the treated effluent from the biological solids. Part of the concentrated solids is recirculated to maintain an adequate concentration of mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) In the aerated basin. When the secondary clarifier malfunctions, some biological solids are lost to the effluent : the process efficiency drops and the concentration of suspended solids (SS) increases. When the SS in the effluent is too high the sludge volume index (SVI) must be measured. A low SVI means that the biological solids have good sedimentation characteristics : the problem is thon physical in nature and is easily identified. When the SVI is high, the problem is due to a disturbance of the microbiological ecosystem, which is at the origin of excessive filamentous organism growth. The origins and solutions of such a problem are much harder to find. To this end the authors proceeded with an important review of the literature, the results of which are summarized through a critical path, in figure 1. Files from 1 to 48 are linked by logical statements in such a way that by answering simple questions, one can proceed through the files and identify the must probable cause of the biological disturbance as well as the solution which has already proven successful. Furthermore, the authors have linked each file to a technical file which bears the same number and on which an explanation and references are found.

Before proceeding with figure 1 to identify a problem in real life, one must obtain information, resulting from an analysis and observations, with regard to plant effluent, primary clarifier effluent and activated sludge characteristics, including the MLSS concentration. One must also know the chemical oxygen demand (COD), the soluble and total biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5), as well as the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the plant influent. Furthermore, one must also be told of the presence of toxic material or industrial wastes in the sewage and of the fraction of pollution load which is in the form of particulates. Whether sudden changes in the quality of the plant influent have occurred is worth knowing. The concentration of oxygen or hydrogen sulfide in the primary clarifier is also important. One must also gather data related to the activated sludge treatment itself : type of reactor (completely mixed or plug flow), mixed liquor volatile suspended solids (MLVSS) concentration, dissolved oxygen concentration, rate of oxygen uptake and pH. Finally, the results of a microbiological analysis of the sludge are very useful.

To illustrate the use of figure 1, let us say that we have the following data :
a) Many filamentous microorganisms are present in the MLSS, in particular Microthrix parvicella, type 0092, and Thiothrix sp;
b) The rate of dissolved oxygen uptake is 12 mg O2/g of SS - h;
c) The rate of COD removal is 0,48 Kg/Kg of SS -d;
d) There are no toxic substances in the plant influent;
e) There are no abrupt changes in plant influent quality;
f) The pHs of the plant influent and of the MLSS are 7,0 and 6,8 respectively;
g) The ammonia nitrogen concentration of the plant influent is 1,2 mg/L (N);
h) The phosphorus concentration of the plant influent is 4,4 mg/L (P);
i) The total and soluble BOD5 concentrations of the plant influent are 400 and 80 mg/L respectively.

With this information, we are ready to proceed through figure 1. From file one, one goes to file 2, since the rate of oxygen uptake is sufficient. Otherwise, we would have proceeded to file 32. The reactor being completely mixed, the next step is file 3, where it is said that, because of the low soluble BOD5 concentration one must go to file 9, where we find a fast of filamentous microarganisms which may be responsible for the disturbance. Since two of these microorganisms are effectively present in the mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS), Microthrox parvicella and type 0092, we are invited to go to file 35, where it is stated that someone has already solved a similar problem by creating a modified contact zone to increase the substrats (organic matter) concentration around the microbiological flocs. The third filamentous microorganism is not identified in file 9. As a second possibility one may assume, in file 2. That the mixing is not complete, which is often the case. With the help of information and results of analyses already available, we proceed, through file 4, 14, 15 and 16, to file 20 where Thiothrix sp is included in the microorganisms listed. File 20 is linked to file 41, where it is said that the controlled addition of nitrogen in the plant influent has already been used to solve this type of problem.

The critical path presented in this article is the result of an elaborate study. It may be used as a tool to identify the causes of bad biological flocs sedimentation in the secondary clarifier and select solutions that have already been used successfully.


Activated sludge, filamentous organisms, bulking, decantation, sedimentation.

Corresponding author

Blanchard, B., Associée professionnelle de recherche, École Polytechnique de Montréal, génie civil, CP 6079, Succursale « A », Montréal (Québec), Canada, H3C 3A7

Franšais      print      e-mail