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Water Environment Research

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Original Item ID

DOI: 10.1002/wer.10856


Activated sludge is a conventional treatment process for biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS) removal at water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs). Foaming events are a common operational issue in activated sludge and can lead to decreased treatment efficiency, maintenance issues, and potential environmental health risks. Stable foaming events are caused by biological and chemical drivers (i.e., microbes and surfactants) during the aeration process. However, foaming events are difficult to predict and quantify. We present an inexpensive and easy-to-use method that can be applied at WRRFs to quantify foaming potential. Subsequently, the method was applied over a year-long full-scale study while data on microbial community composition and functional parameters associated with foaming potential were collected from activated sludge samples at South Shore Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) (Oak Creek, WI). Results from the development of the foaming potential method using linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) showed that the method was reproducible (relative standard deviation Zoogloea, Flavobacterium, Variovorax, and Bdellovibrio. This is the first report that Variovorx and Bdellovibrio relative abundance was correlated with foaming events in activated sludge. Furthermore, the foaming potential positively correlated (ρ = 0.24) with soluble total nitrogen. Characterizing foaming events through frequent sampling and monitoring of specific genera and functional parameters may allow for predictions and preemptive mitigation efforts to avoid negative consequences in the future.

Practitioner Points

  • A reproducible method to measure foaming potential in activated sludge is available.
  • Genera Zoogloea, Flavobacterium, Variovorax, and Bdellovibrio correlated with foaming events.
  • A year-long sampling campaign of activated sludge measuring foaming potential and microbial community composition was conducted at South Shore Water Reclamation Facility in Oak Creek, WI.
  • More research at other facilities with this method is needed to understand links between microbes and foaming


Accepted version. Water Environment Research, Vol. 95, No. 4 (April 2023). DOI. © 2023 Wiley. Used with permission.

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