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Water SA

On-line version ISSN 1816-7950
Print version ISSN 0378-4738


LOBANGA, KP; HAARHOFF, J  and  VAN STADEN, SJ. Treatability of South African surface waters by activated carbon. Water SA [online]. 2013, vol.39, n.3, pp.379-384. ISSN 1816-7950.

Natural organic matter (NOM) in water resources for drinking purposes can be removed by different methods, including activated carbon adsorption. Due to the variability of NOM in natural waters, both in terms of its nature and its concentration, a study was undertaken to investigate NOM removal for a wide range of South African surface waters, sampled at different periods, by the use of granular activated carbon (GAC). NOM removal was assessed by measuring the ultraviolet (UV) absorbance at 3 wavelengths, namely, 254 nm (UV254), 272 nm (UV272) and 300 nm (UV300). A comparison of data between the three wavelengths showed that any of the three wavelengths can be used to assess NOM removal by GAC, which is well described by the Freundlich equilibrium equation. A treatment target of 40% removal of initial UV254 absorbance was considered. It was observed that, although the GAC dosage was generally a function of the initial UV254 absorbance, differences existed between waters. This suggests that GAC usage rate is not only a function of the initial UV absorbance but also of the NOM composition, indicating a need for improved NOM characterisation. Comparison between the UV absorbance and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) data suggested that for some waters UV254 absorbance can be used as a rapid substitute for DOC. Finally, the high GAC dosage rates required for the target criterion revealed that the process is inadequate for use at the initial stage of raw water treatment; GAC adsorption should be used at later stages of drinking water treatment.

Keywords : activated carbon; adsorption; Freundlich isotherm; natural organic matter; surface water; ultraviolet absorbance.

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