Removal of organic micropollutants in biologically active filters: A systematic quantitative review of key influencing factors

Sana Ajaz, Ashraf Aly Hassan, Ruby N. Michael, Frederic D.L. Leusch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Biofiltration utilizes natural mechanisms including biodegradation and biotransformation along with other physical processes for the removal of organic micropollutants (OMPs) such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides and industrial compounds found in (waste)water. In this systematic review, a total of 120 biofiltration studies from 25 countries were analyzed, considering various biofilter configurations, source water types, biofilter media and scales of operation. The study also provides a bibliometric analysis to identify the emerging research trends in the field. The results show that granular activated carbon (GAC) either alone or in combination with another biofiltration media can remove a broad range of OMPs efficiently. The impact of pre-oxidation on biofilter performance was investigated, revealing that pre-oxidation significantly improved OMP removal and reduced the empty bed contact time (EBCT) needed to achieve a consistently high OMP. Biofiltration with pre-oxidation had median removals ranging between 65% and >90% for various OMPs at 10–45 min EBCT with data variability drastically reducing beyond 20 min EBCT. Biofiltration without pre-oxidation had lower median removals with greater variability. The results demonstrate that pre-oxidation greatly enhances the removal of adsorptive and poorly biodegradable OMPs, while its impact on other OMPs varies. Only 19% of studies we reviewed included toxicity testing of treated effluent, and even fewer measured transformation products. Several studies have previously reported an increase in effluent toxicity because of oxidation, although it was successfully abated by subsequent biofiltration in most cases. Therefore, the efficacy of biofiltration treatment should be assessed by integrating toxicity testing into the assessment of overall removal.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120203
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - Feb 27 2024


  • Biofiltration
  • Biological activated carbon filtration
  • Emerging contaminants
  • Empty bed contact time
  • Organic micropollutants
  • Ozone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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