Evaluation of Nitrogen Concentration in Final Effluent of Advanced Nitrogen-Removal Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS)

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Advanced nitrogen (N)-removal onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) are installed in coastal areas throughout the USA to reduce N loading to groundwater and marine waters. However, final effluent total nitrogen (TN) concentration from these systems is not always routinely monitored, making it difficult to determine the extent to which they contribute to N loads. We monitored the final effluent TN concentration of 42 advanced N-removal OWTS within the Greater Narragansett Bay Watershed, Rhode Island between March 2015 and August 2016. The compliance rate with the State of Rhode Island final effluent standard (TN ≤ 19 mg N/L) was 64.3, 70.6, and 75.0% for FAST, Advantex, and SeptiTech systems, respectively. The median (range) final effluent TN concentration (mg N/L) was 11.3 (0.1–41.6) for SeptiTech, 14.9 (0.6–61.6) for Advantex, and 17.1 (0.6–104.9) for FAST systems. Variation in final effluent TN concentration was not driven by temperature; TN concentrations plotted against effluent temperature values resulted in R2 values of 0.001 for FAST, 0.007 for Advantex, and 0.040 for SeptiTech systems. The median effluent TN concentration for all the systems in our study (16.7 mg N/L) was greater than reported for Barnstable County, MA systems (13.3 mg N/L), which are monitored quarterly. Depending on technology type, ammonium (NH4+), nitrate (NO3−), alkalinity, forward flow, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and effluent temperature best predicted effluent TN concentrations. Service providers made adjustments to seven underperforming systems, but TN was reduced to 19 mg N/L in only two of the seven systems. Advanced N-removal OWTS can reduce TN to meet regulations, and monitoring of these systems can enable service providers to proactively manage systems. However, improvement of performance may require recursive adjustments and long-term monitoring.

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Water, Air, and Soil Pollution