Potential Pitfalls in Wastewater Phosphorus Analysis and How to Avoid Them

TitlePotential Pitfalls in Wastewater Phosphorus Analysis and How to Avoid Them
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsPraveen Rosario, Ramya Viswash, Thamayanthi Seenivasan, Sudha Ramalingam, Katelyn L. Sellgren, Sonia Grego, and Lena Trotochaud
JournalEnvironmental Health Insights
Date Published05/2021
Keywordsnon-sewered sanitation, nutrient pollution, onsite treatment, phosphate, phosphorus, standard solutions, Wastewater

Due to the increasing adoption of nutrient discharge regulations, many research groups are stepping into new territory with phosphorus (P) measurements. Accurate reporting of P concentrations in effluent from novel wastewater treatment technologies is critical for protecting both environmental and human health. Analysis of P in wastewater is prone to pitfalls because of the (1) variety of chemical forms of P in wastewater (orthophosphate, condensed P, and organic P), (2) availability of different chemical assays for measuring different P forms, and (3) different conventions in the units for reporting P. Here, we present a case study highlighting how these pitfalls affect analysis and interpretation of P measurements. We show that, when used appropriately, commercially-available kits are indeed accurate tools for evaluating reactive P and total P concentrations. For both standard solutions and real wastewater, we systematically remove steps from the total P protocol to show how protocol deviations affect the results. While standard solutions are important for validating analytical methods, commercially-available wastewater standard solutions only contain P as orthophosphate (reactive P). We therefore demonstrate options for making a mixed-P standard solution containing acid-hydrolyzable and/or organic P compounds that can be used to validate both reactive P and total P assays.