This study aims to investigate the effect of two different groups of phenolic compounds (the alkylphenols nonylphenol (NP) and octylphenol (OP), and the chlorophenol pentachlorophenol (PCP)) on constructed wetlands (CWs) performance, including on organic matter, nutrients and contaminants removal efficiency, and on microbial community structure in the plant bed substrate. CWs were assembled at lab scale simulating a vertical flow configuration and irrigated along eight weeks with Ribeira de Joane (an urban stream) water not doped (control) or doped with a mixture of NP and OP or with PCP (at a 100 μg·L−1
concentration each). The presence of the phenolic contaminants did not interfere in the removal of organic matter or nutrients in CWs in the long term. Removals of NP and OP were >99%, whereas PCP removals varied between 87% and 98%, mainly due to biodegradation. Microbial richness, diversity and dominance in CWs substrate were generally not affected by phenolic compounds, with only PCP decreasing diversity. Microbial community structure, however, showed that there was an adaptation of the microbial community to the presence of each contaminant, with several specialist genera being enriched following exposure. The three more abundant specialist genera were Methylotenera
(methylophilaceae family) and Hyphomicrobium
(hyphomicrobiaceae family) when the systems were exposed to a mixture of NP and OP. When exposed to PCP, the three more abundant genera were Denitromonas
family) and Rhodocyclaceae
family). To increase CWs efficiency in the elimination of phenolic compounds, namely PCP which was not totally removed, strategies to stimulate (namely biostimulation) or increase (namely bioaugmentation) the presence of these bacteria should be explore. This study clearly shows the potential of vertical flow CWs for the removal of phenolic compounds, a still little explored subject, contributing to promote the use of CWs as nature-based solutions to remediate water contaminated with different families of persistent and/or emergent contaminants.
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