Literature frequently reports that colloids in aqueous matrices sorb a large fraction of pharmaceuticals. Since coagulation/flocculation removes colloids, it is expected that coagulation/flocculation in principle should be useful in concentrating pharmaceuticals in wastewater treatment, which would facilitate the treatment of these refractory compounds. In our present work, we researched the potential of coagulation/flocculation for removing pharmaceuticals from raw sewage. Results from jar tests showed that pharmaceuticals are hardly removed from sewage with coagulation/flocculation. To investigate the discrepancy between reported colloidal sorption and the lack of removal when removing colloids, we tested a commonly applied experimental setup, which makes use of ultra-filtration (UF), for determining the colloidal sorption of pharmaceuticals. The UF method under research was compared with an assessment making use of flocculation. Both methods, UF and flocculation, showed similar removal of colloids. However, during UF, the retention of pharmaceuticals reached values up to 93 ± 4 %. In contrast, when removing the colloids with flocculation, no pharmaceutical removal was observed. These results confirm that it is very likely to introduce an analysis bias in using UF membranes in the determination of colloidal sorption of pharmaceuticals. In fact, results predict an over-estimation caused by a direct retention of pharmaceuticals without any binding to colloidal matter. Overall results of the current work show that pharmaceuticals hardly sorb to colloids and herewith the absence of removal of pharmaceuticals during coagulation/flocculation is explained.
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