Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) derived from wastewater effluent can participate in reactions that lead to formation of nitrogenous chlorination by-products, membrane fouling, eutrophication, and nitrification issues, so management of DON is important for both wastewater reuse applications and nutrient-sensitive watersheds that receive discharges from treated wastewater. This study documents DON occurrence in full-scale water/wastewater (W/WW) treatment plant effluents and assesses the removal of wastewater-derived DON by several processes (biodegradation, coagulation, softening, and powdered activated carbon [PAC] adsorption) used for advanced treatment in wastewater reuse applications. After varying levels of wastewater treatment, the dominant aqueous nitrogenous species shifts from ammonia to nitrate after aerobic processes and nitrate to DON in tertiary treatment effluents. The fraction of DON in total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) accounts for at most 52% in tertiary treated effluents (median = 13%) and 54% in surface waters impacted by upstream wastewater discharges (median = 31%). The 5-day biodegradability/bioavailability of DON (39%) was higher, on average, than that of dissolved organic carbon (DOC, 26%); however, upon chlorination, the DON removal (3%) decreased significantly. Alum coagulation (with ≥8 mg/L alum per mg/L DOC) and lime softening (with pH 11.3-11.5) removed <25% of DON and DOC without selectivity. PAC adsorption preferentially removed more DOC than DON by 10% on average. The results provided herein hence shed light on approaches for reducing organic nitrogen content in treated wastewater.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4641-4650
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number15
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011


  • Bioavailability
  • Biodegradability
  • Dissolved organic nitrogen
  • Nitrogen speciation
  • Organic matter characterization
  • Wastewater reuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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