Removal of organic contaminants in bioretention medium amended with activated carbon from sewage sludge
Journal article, 2017

Bioretention, also known as rain garden, allows stormwater to soak into the ground through a soil-based medium, leading to removal of particulate and dissolved pollutants and reduced peak flows. Although soil organic matter (SOM) is efficient at sorbing many pollutants, amending the bioretention medium with highly effective adsorbents has been proposed to optimize pollutant removal and extend bioretention lifetime. The aim of this research was to investigate whether soil amended with activated carbon produced from sewage sludge increases the efficiency to remove hydrophobic organic compounds frequently detected in stormwater, compared to non-amended soil. Three lab-scale columns (520 cm3) were packed with soil (bulk density 1.22 g/cm3); activated carbon (0.5% w/w) was added to two of the columns. During 28 days, synthetic stormwater—ultrapure water spiked with seven hydrophobic organic pollutants and dissolved organic matter in the form of humic acids—was passed through the column beds using upward flow (45 mm/h). Pollutant concentrations in effluent water (collected every 12 h) and polluted soils, as well as desorbed amounts of pollutants from soils were determined using GC-MS. Compared to SOM, the activated carbon exhibited a significantly higher adsorption capacity for tested pollutants. The amended soil was most efficient for removing moderately hydrophobic compounds (log Kow 4.0–4.4): as little as 0.5% (w/w), carbon addition may extend bioretention medium lifetime by approximately 10–20 years before saturation of these pollutants occurs. The column tests also indicated that released SOM sorb onto activated carbon, which may lead to early saturation of sorption sites on the carbon surface. The desorption test revealed that the pollutants are generally strongly sorbed to the soil particles, indicating low bioavailability and limited biodegradation.

Stormwater management

Column test


Soil amendment

Hydrophobic organic pollutants

Dissolved organic matter

Rain garden



Karin Björklund

Chalmers, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Water Environment Technology

Loretta Li

University of British Columbia (UBC)

Environmental Science and Pollution Research

0944-1344 (ISSN)

Vol. 24 23 19167-19180

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)

Subject Categories

Water Engineering

Environmental Sciences



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