Behaviour and fate of metals in urban wastewater treatment plants: a review

  • P. Cantinho
  • M. Matos
  • M. A. Trancoso
  • M. M. Correia dos Santos


The concerns on metals in urban wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are mainly related to its contents in discharges to environment, namely in the final effluent and in the sludge produced. In the near future, more restrictive limits will be imposed to final effluents, due to the recent guidelines of the European Water Framework Directive (EUWFD). Concerning the sludge, at least seven metals (Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb and Zn) have been regulated in different countries, four of which were classified by EUWFD as priority substances and two of which were also classified as hazardous substances. Although WWTPs are not designed to remove metals, the study of metals behaviour in these systems is a crucial issue to develop predictive models that can help more effectively the regulation of pre-treatment requirements and contribute to optimize the systems to get more acceptable metal concentrations in its discharges. Relevant data have been published in the literature in recent decades concerning the occurrence/fate/behaviour of metals in WWTPs. However, the information is dispersed and not standardized in terms of parameters for comparing results. This work provides a critical review on this issue through a careful systematization, in tables and graphs, of the results reported in the literature, which allows its comparison and so its analysis, in order to conclude about the state of the art in this field. A summary of the main consensus, divergences and constraints found, as well as some recommendations, is presented as conclusions, aiming to contribute to a more concerted action of future research.


Metals removal mechanisms Metals mass balances Metals behaviour models Priority pollutants Sewage sludge metals content Urban wastewater metals sources 



The authors thank to the Department of Chemical Engineering, Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, to the Laboratory of Biofuels and Environment, National Laboratory of Energy and Geology, and to the Project FCT/UID/QUI/00100/2013 for the support in this work.


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Copyright information

© Islamic Azad University (IAU) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Cantinho
    • 1
  • M. Matos
    • 1
  • M. A. Trancoso
    • 2
  • M. M. Correia dos Santos
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringInstituto Superior de Engenharia de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Laboratory of Biofuels and EnvironmentNational Laboratory of Energy and GeologyLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Center of Structural ChemistryInstituto Superior TécnicoLisbonPortugal

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