Defluoridation and natural organic matter removal in drinking waters by alum coagulation
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Fluoride naturally occurs in some ground and surface waters at high concentrations all around the world. Due to increasing health concerns about over-exposure to fluoride in drinking water, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has begun to review fluoride as a drinking water contaminant. Should the USEPA decide to lower the fluoride maximum contaminant limit (MCL), many water systems in addition to those already struggling to meet the fluoride MCL will require defluoridation as part of their drinking water treatment process. Alum coagulation was investigated as a defluoridation treatment strategy in this research project. Surface and blended (ground/surface) drinking water sources with high fluoride concentrations pose a unique challenge to defluoridation by alum coagulation because of the presence of both natural organic matter (NOM) and fluoride. Defluoridation of synthetic and natural waters using jar tests elucidated interactions of fluoride, NOM, and aluminum during alum coagulation. Alum coagulation was able to remove 80% of fluoride from natural waters with a 500 mg/L alum dose; however, 50% fluoride removal was observed to be possible with an alum dose of 150-170 mg/L. The optimum pH for fluoride removal in synthetic and natural waters was observed to be approximately 6.5 and was found to be an important factor in determining the overall performance of alum coagulation. The presence of fluoride during alum coagulation was found to reduce the removal of three low molecular weight (LMW) organics, acting as surrogates for NOM, to different extents depending on their functionality. The presence of LMW organic acids in synthetic waters did not impact the removal of fluoride; however, increasing NOM concentrations in the natural waters likely accounted for decreasing fluoride removals observed in the natural waters. Additional jar tests with natural waters revealed that pH adjustment was unnecessary for defluoridation of high pH and high alkalinity waters and that an enhanced precipitation effect occurred at low alum doses when no pH adjustment was made during alum coagulation. The enhanced precipitation effect caused comparable or enhanced removals of fluoride and NOM to be observed despite system pH values being higher than the optimal defluoridation pH of 6.5. Lower aluminum residuals were also observed as part of the enhanced precipitation effect, suggesting that when precipitation begins under high pH conditions, fluoride interference does not occur and therefore promotes more precipitate formation with greater available surface area for adsorption. However, as precipitation occurs, pH drops, and fluoride increasingly interacts with the aluminum precipitate resulting in greater overall fluoride removals.