As high quality drinking water becomes scarcer, unintentional indirect potable water reuse, where wastewater effluent is used as a part of a downstream drinking water source, has become a great concern throughout the world. In this case, a variety of organic micro-pollutants contained in wastewater effluent could create problems. High pressure-driven membranes such as nanofiltration (NF) or reverse osmosis (RO) might be a powerful option to deal with such micro-pollutants, however, a lack of information on their performance is apparent. This study examined the ability of RO membranes to retain neutral (uncharged) endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs). A total of 11 compounds were chosen so that a certain range of molecular weights and octanol-water distribution coefficients (Kow) could be studied. With respect to membranes, two different materials (polyamide and cellulose acetate) were examined. Generally, the polyamide membrane exhibited a better performance in terms of the rejection of the selected compounds but the retention was not complete (57-91%). It was found that salt rejection or molecular weight cut-off (MWCO) that are often used to characterize membrane rejection properties did not provide quantitative information in terms of EDCs/PhACs rejection by NF/RO membranes. Molecular weight of the tested compounds could generally indicate the tendency of rejection for the polyamide membranes (size exclusion dominated the retention by the polyamide membrane) while polarity was better able to describe the retention trend of the tested compounds by the cellulose acetate membrane. The results obtained in this study imply that each membrane polymer material for NF/RO membranes, including ones that will be newly developed in the future, would exhibit different trends in terms of rejection of organic micro-pollutants, which is determined by physico-chemical properties of the compounds. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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