Mechanistic Determination of Nitrogen Removal By Advanced Soil-Based Wastewater Treatment Systems Using 15n Isotopes

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Jennifer Cooper1, George Loomis1, David Kalen1, Thomas B Boving2, Ivan Morales1 and Jose Amador1, (1)University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, United States, (2)University of Rhode Island, Civil, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Kingston, RI, United States
Current levels of nitrogen removal by onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) are inadequate, with release of N from OWTS contributing to environmental N pollution, especially in coastal zones where aquatic ecosystems are sensitive to eutrophication. Current mechanistic understand of N removal are limited and mainly attributed to denitrification in the drainfield. Loss of N from N2O production during nitrification, a sparsely researched topic, may be a significant mechanism in advanced OWTS systems that enhance O2 diffusion by sand filter pre-treatment, shallow placement of infiltrative areas and timed dosing controls to prevent drainfield saturation. Replicate (n=3) intact soil mesocosms were used with 15N isotope to evaluate the effectiveness and mechanisms of N removal in drainfields with a conventional wastewater delivery (pipe-and-stone, P&S) compared to two advanced types of drainfields, pressurized shallow narrow drainfield (SND) and Geomat (GEO), a variation of a SND drainfield. Over the 11 day experiment, dissolved O2 was 1.6 mg/L for P&S and 3.0 mg/L for SND and GEO. Removal of total N was 13.5% for P&S, 4.8% for SND and 5.4% for GEO. 15NH4 labeled nitrogen inputs to drainfields were transformed primarily to 15NO3 in all outputs. Consistent low 15N2O levels were present in P&S, with increasing levels of N2 peaking 48h after 15NH4 injection, suggesting denitrification dominated N removal. By contrast, SND and GEO 15N2O levels rose quickly, peaking 8h after 15NH4 injection, suggesting N loss by nitrification. When the whole system is considered, including sand filter removal, 26 – 27% of total N was removed by the SND and GEO systems, whereas 14% of total N was removed in the P&S system. Our results suggest the SND and GEO systems as a whole are capable of removing a greater mass of N than the P&S system.