Is biological treatment a viable alternative for micropollutant removal in drinking water treatment processes?

Jessica Benner, Damian E. Helbling, Hans-Peter E. Kohler, Janneke Wittebol, Elena Kaiser, Carsten Prasse, Thomas A. Ternes, Christian N. Albers, Jens Aamand, Benjamin Horemans, Dirk Springael, Eddy Walravens, Nico Boon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

252 Citations (Scopus)


In western societies, clean and safe drinking water is often taken for granted, but there are threats to drinking water resources that should not be underestimated. Contamination of drinking water sources by anthropogenic chemicals is one threat that is particularly widespread in industrialized nations. Recently, a significant amount of attention has been given to the occurrence of micropollutants in the urban water cycle. Micropollutants are bioactive and/or persistent chemicals originating from diverse sources that are frequently detected in water resources in the pg/L to μg/L range. The aim of this review is to critically evaluate the viability of biological treatment processes as a means to remove micropollutants from drinking water resources. We first place the micropollutant problem in context by providing a comprehensive summary of the reported occurrence of micropollutants in raw water used directly for drinking water production and in finished drinking water. We then present a critical discussion on conventional and advanced drinking water treatment processes and their contribution to micropollutant removal. Finally, we propose biological treatment and bioaugmentation as a potential targeted, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative to existing processes while critically examining the technical limitations and scientific challenges that need to be addressed prior to implementation. This review will serve as a valuable source of data and literature for water utilities, water researchers, policy makers, and environmental consultants. Meanwhile this review will open the door to meaningful discussion on the feasibility and application of biological treatment and bioaugmentation in drinking water treatment processes to protect the public from exposure to micropollutants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5955-5976
Number of pages22
JournalWater Research
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2013


  • Bioaugmentation
  • Biologically active sand filter
  • Co-metabolic transformation
  • Groundwater
  • Metabolic degradation
  • Pesticides
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Surface water
  • Xenobiotics

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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