Biosorption of humic and fulvic acids to live activated sludge biomass

Mario Esparza-Soto, Paul Westerhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Biosorption of high molecular weight humic substances (HS) to activated sludge (AS) biomass may be considered as a preliminary step previous to enzymatic hydrolysis breakdown and biological uptake. Two standard HS, Suwannee River humic and fulvic acids, were biosorbed onto live AS biomass collected from full-scale wastewater treatment plants. Biosorption isotherms were corrected for interference from organic matter desorbed from AS biomass. The effect of pH, calcium and ionic strength on biosorption was tested. HS biosorption to live AS biomass obeyed the Freundlich isotherm equation. Biosorption increased with decreasing pH, increasing calcium and ionic strength concentration. Higher biosorption at low pH may be attributed to hydrophobic interactions between HS and AS biomass extracellular polymers (EPS). Hydrophobic and cationic bridging effects between HS and AS EPS were the mechanisms responsible for biosorption under the presence of divalent cations; however, the former was most significant at low pH, whereas the latter was predominant near neutral pH. The effect of ionic strength on HS biosorption followed the colloidal chemistry theory as the electric double layer became compressed when the ionic strength increased, resulting in closer approach of HS and AS biomass. The humic acid fraction of Suwannee River was removed more efficiently than its fulvic acid fraction because the humic acid was more hydrophobic. These results showed that pH, divalent cation concentration and ionic strength play an important role in the fate and removal of influent wastewater HS in full-scale treatment plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2301-2310
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2003


  • Activated sludge biomass
  • Biosorption
  • Cation bridging
  • Extracellular polymers (EPS)
  • Humic substances
  • Hydrophobic effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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