Significant adsorption of sulfamethoxazole and carbamazepine to powdered activated carbon (PAC) was confirmed by a series of adsorption tests. In contrast, adsorption of these micropollutants to the sludge was negligible. The removal of these compounds in membrane bioreactor (MBR) was dependent on their hydrophobicity and loading as well as the PAC dosage. Sulfamethoxazole exhibited better removal rate during operation under no or low (0.1 g/L) PAC dosage. When the PAC concentration in MBR was raised to 1.0 g/L, a sustainable and significantly improved performance in the removal of both compounds was observed – the removal efficiencies of sulfamethoxazole and carbamazepine increased to 82 ± 11% and 92 ± 15% from the levels of 64 ± 7%, and negligible removal, respectively. The higher removal efficiency of carbamazepine at high (1.0 g/L) PAC dosage could be attributed to the fact that carbamazepine is relatively more hydrophobic than sulfmethoxazole, which subsequently resulted in its higher adsorption affinity toward PAC.
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