Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1149–1157 | Cite as

Whole effluent assessment of industrial wastewater for determination of BAT compliance. Part 2: metal surface treatment industry

  • Stefan Gartiser
  • Christoph Hafner
  • Christoph Hercher
  • Kerstin Kronenberger-Schäfer
  • Albrecht Paschke
Research Article


Background, aim and scope

Toxicity testing has become a suitable tool for wastewater evaluation included in several reference documents on best available techniques of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive. The IPPC Directive requires that for direct dischargers as well as for indirect dischargers, the same best available techniques should be applied. Within the study, the whole effluent assessment approach of OSPAR has been applied for determining persistent toxicity of indirectly discharged wastewater from the metal surface treatment industry.

Materials and methods

Twenty wastewater samples from the printed circuit board and electroplating industries which indirectly discharged their wastewater to municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) have been considered in the study. In all factories, the wastewater partial flows were separated in collecting tanks and physicochemically treated in-house. For assessing the behaviour of the wastewater samples in WWTPs, all samples were biologically pretreated for 7 days in the Zahn–Wellens test before ecotoxicity testing. Thus, persistent toxicity could be discriminated from non-persistent toxicity caused, e.g. by ammonium or readily biodegradable compounds. The fish egg test with Danio rerio, the Daphnia magna acute toxicity test, the algae test with Desmodesmus subspicatus, the Vibrio fischeri assay and the plant growth test with Lemna minor have been applied. All tests have been carried out according to well-established DIN or ISO standards and the lowest ineffective dilution (LID) concept. Additionally, genotoxicity was tested in the umu assay. The potential bioaccumulating substances (PBS) were determined by solid-phase micro-extraction and referred to the reference compound 2,3-dimethylnaphthalene.


The chemical oxygen demand (COD) and total organic carbon (TOC) values of the effluents were in the range of 30–2,850 mg L−1 (COD) and 2–614 mg L−1 (TOC). With respect to the metal concentrations, all samples were not heavily polluted. The maximum conductivity of the samples was 43,700 µS cm−1 and indicates that salts might contribute to the overall toxicity. Half of the wastewater samples proved to be biologically well treatable in the Zahn–Wellens test with COD elimination above 80%, whilst the others were insufficiently biodegraded (COD elimination 28–74%). After the pretreatment in the Zahn–Wellens test, wastewater samples from four (out of ten) companies were extremely ecotoxic especially to algae (maximum LIDA = 16,384). Three wastewater samples were genotoxic in the umu test. Applying the rules for salt correction of test results as allowed in the German Wastewater Ordinance, only a small part of toxicity could be attributed to salts. Considering the PBS, wastewater from the metal surface treatment industry exhibited very low levels of PBS. In one factory, the origin of ecotoxicity has been attributed to the organosulphide dimethyldithiocarbamate (DMDTC) used as a water treatment chemical for metal precipitation. The assumption based on rough calculation of input of the organosulphide into the wastewater was confirmed in practice by testing its ecotoxicity at the corresponding dilution ratio after pretreatment in the Zahn–Wellens test. Whilst the COD elimination of DMDTC was only 32% in 7 days, the pretreated sample exhibited a high ecotoxicity to algae (LIDA = 1,536) and luminescent bacteria (LIDlb = 256).


Comparative data from wastewater surveillance by authorities (data from 1993 to 2007) confirmed the range of ecotoxicity observed in the study. Whilst wastewater from the metal surface treatment industry usually did not exhibit ecotoxicity (median LID 1–2), the maximum LID values reported for the algae, daphnia and luminescent bacteria tests were very high (LIDA up to 3,072, LIDD up to 512 and LIDlb up to 2,048). DMDTC was found to be one important source of ecotoxicity in galvanic wastewater. DMDTC is added in surplus, and according to the supplier, the amount in excess should be detoxified with ferric chloride or iron sulphate. The operator of one electroplating company had not envisaged a separate treatment of the organosulphide wastewater but was assuming that excess organosulphide would be bound by other heavy metals in the sewer. DMDTC degrades via hydrolysis to carbon disulfide (which is also toxic to animals and aquatic organisms), carbonyl sulphide, hydrogen sulphide and dimethylamine, but forms complexes with metals which stabilise the compound with respect to transformation. Although no impact on the WWTP is expected, the question arises whether the organosulphide is completely degraded during the passage of the WWTP.

Conclusions and recommendations

The results show that the organic load of wastewater from the electroplating industry has been underestimated by focussing on inorganic parameters such heavy metals, sulphide, cyanide, etc. Bioassays are a suitable tool for assessing the ecotoxicological relevance of these complex organic mixtures. The proof of biodegradability of the organic load (and its toxicity) can be provided by the Zahn–Wellens test. The environmental safety of water treatment chemicals should be better considered. The combination of the Zahn–Wellens test followed by the performance of ecotoxicity tests turned out to be a cost-efficient suitable instrument for the evaluation of indirect dischargers and considers the requirements of the IPPC Directive.


Wastewater ordinance Metal surface treatment Printed circuit board industry Electroplating industry Ecotoxicity Genotoxicity Algae test Vibrio fischeri assay Daphnia test umuC assay Fish egg test Lemna test Zahn–Wellens test Potential bioaccumulating substances Organosulphides Dimethyldithiocarbamate Whole effluent assessment WEA OSPAR 



The authors thank Ms. Andrea Brunswik-Titze, Ms. Yvonne Ziser, Ms. Svetlana Lamert (Hydrotox) for the performance of ecotoxicity tests and Mr. Uwe Schröter, Ms. Susann Arnold and Ms. Maria Höher (UFZ Leipzig) for the PBS determination. We kindly acknowledge the financial support of the investigations by the German Federal Environmental Protection Agency (UBA) within the project FKZ 206 26 302 and dedicate this paper to the commemoration of Ms. Monika Pattard as expert advisor from the UBA.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Gartiser
    • 1
  • Christoph Hafner
    • 1
  • Christoph Hercher
    • 1
  • Kerstin Kronenberger-Schäfer
    • 1
  • Albrecht Paschke
    • 2
  1. 1.Hydrotox GmbHFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of EcologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchLeipzigGermany

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