Diclofenac biotransformation in the enhanced biological phosphorus removal process

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Diclofenac is a pharmaceutical active compound frequently detected in wastewater and water bodies, and often reported to be persistent and difficult to biodegrade. While many previous studies have focussed on assessing diclofenac biodegradation in nitrification and denitrification processes, this study focusses on diclofenac biodegradation in the enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) process, where the efficiency of this process for diclofenac biodegradation as well as the metabolites generated are not well understood. An enrichment of Accumulibacter polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) was operated in an SBR for over 300 d, and acclimatized to 20 μg/L of diclofenac, which is in a similar range to that observed in domestic wastewater influents. The diclofenac biotransformation was monitored in four periods of stable operation and linked to the microbial community and metabolic behaviour in each period. Nitrification was observed in two of the four periods despite the addition of a nitrification inhibitor, and these periods were positively correlated with increased diclofenac biodegradation. Interestingly, in two periods with excellent phosphorus removal (>99%) and no nitrification, different levels of diclofenac biotransformation were observed. Period 2, enriched in Accumulibacter Type II achieved more significant diclofenac biotransformation (3.4 μg/gX), while period 4, enriched in Accumulibacter Type I achieved lower diclofenac biotransformation (0.4 μg/gX). In total, 23 transformation products were identified, with lower toxicity than the parent compound, enabling the elucidation of multiple metabolic pathways for diclofenac biotransformation. This study showed that PAOs can contribute to diclofenac biotransformation, yielding less toxic transformation products, and can complement the biodegradation carried out by other organisms in activated sludge, particularly nitrifiers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number151232
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPt 3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • Biological nutrient removal
  • Biotransformation
  • Candidatus Accumulibacter phosphatis
  • Micropollutants
  • Pharmaceutical active compounds (PhACs)


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