Characterisation of treated effluent from four commonly employed wastewater treatment facilities: A UK case study

Christopher A. Yates*, Penny J. Johnes, Robert G.M. Spencer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
272 Downloads (Pure)


Sewage treatment systems are a common feature across the landscape of the United Kingdom, serving an estimated 96% of the population and discharging approximately eleven billion litres of treated wastewater daily. While large treatment facilities are ubiquitous across the landscape, they are not the only method employed in domestic wastewater treatment. This study investigates whether differences in nutrient export (carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus) and organic matter composition (determined by optical indices, SUVA254, S350-400 and E2:E3) from treated effluent could be detected between four of the most common facilities employed in the treatment of wastewater across the UK. Set in the context of the River Wylye, a small headwater catchment, treatment facilities studied included; a septic tank system, small packet treatment works, and two large sewage treatment works, one of which employed phosphorus stripping for phosphorus removal. Inorganic N and P concentrations ranged between 7.51 and 42.4 mg N l−1 and 0.22 and 8.9 mg P l−1 respectively, with DOC concentrations ranging between 1.63 and 11.8 mg C l−1. Optical indices were comparable to those observed in catchments where organic matter is dominated by autochthonous production, suggesting the dominance of low molecular weight material when compared to values observed across temperate aquatic systems. Combining data from both the Environment Agency and Ordinance Survey we estimate that only 15% of domestic properties not connected to mains sewerage in the study catchment have an Environment Agency consent/exemption permit. This calculation suggests that the quantity of small point sources are significantly underestimated, undermining efforts under current legislation to improve stream ecosystem health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)919-927
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date10 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019


  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Nutrients
  • Point sources
  • Wastewater
  • Water quality


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