Activated Sludge Microbiology Problems and Their Control

Activated Sludge Microbiology Problems and Their Control

Michael Richard,
Ph.D. Sear-Brown
Fort Collins, CO 

Many problems can develop in activated sludge operation that adversely affect effluent quality with origins in the engineering, hydraulic and microbiological components of the process.

The real "heart" of the activated sludge system is the development and maintenance of a mixed microbial culture (activated sludge) that treats wastewater and which can be managed. One definition of a wastewater treatment plant operator is a "bug farmer", one who controls the aeration basin environment to favor good microbiology.

This paper will discuss the types of microbiological problems that can occur in activated sludge operation. These include dispersed (non-settleable) growth, pin floc problems, zoogloeal bulking and foaming, polysaccharide ("slime") bulking and foaming, nitrification and denitrification problems, toxicity, and filamentous bulking and foaming.

The best approach to troubleshooting the activated sludge process is based on microscopic examination and oxygen uptake rate (OUR) testing to determine the basic cause of the problem or upset and whether it is microbiological in nature. These methods are easy, fast and inexpensive compared to other approaches, and are generally understandable and accepted.