Biological removal of hexavalent chromium: evaluation of the metabolic activity of native and Cr(VI)-acclimated activated sludge using a respirometric method

Hexavalent chromium becomes in one of the tops internationally concern environmental issues due to its wide usage in several industrial activities. There are two stable oxidation states of chromium in the environment which differ significantly on its toxicity; Cr(III) has lower solubility, mobility and lesser biological toxicity in comparison with Cr(VI). While Cr(VI) is a well-known carcinogen, Cr(III) is an essential dietary element. For this reason, most technologies focus attention on the reduction of Cr(VI) to Cr(III). On this context, the ability of microorganisms to reduce Cr(VI) to Cr(III) has gained attention. The objectives of the present work were to analyze the effect of Cr(VI) on the activated sludge community in a continuous reactor, and to evaluate the differences on the metabolic activity of native (NAS) and Cr(VI)-acclimated activated sludge (CrAAS) using a respirometric method. Results showed that the activated sludge community had the capability to acclimate to the presence of Cr(VI). On the other hand, the increase of the initial Cr(VI) concentration from 0 to 100 mgCr/L leads to a decrease in the specific exogenous respiration rate (qEx) values, but this reduction was more noticeably in the case of NAS in comparison with CrAAS. The respirometric curves were well described by the proposed mathematical model. It was concluded that the CrAAS tolerated a Cr(VI) concentration about one order of magnitude higher than NAS, which was positively reflected in the respiration rate first-order decay constant (kd), the specific maximum exogenous respiration rate (qExm), and the observed oxidation coefficient (YO/S) values.