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Breakthrough of Oscillatoria limnetica and microcystin toxins into drinking water treatment plants – examples from the Nile River, Egypt

Zakaria A. Mohamed


The presence of cyanobacteria and their toxins (cyanotoxins) in processed drinking water may pose a health risk to humans and animals. The efficiency of conventional drinking water treatment processes (coagulation, flocculation, rapid sand filtration and disinfection) in removing cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins varies across different countries and depends on the composition of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins prevailing in the water source. Most treatment studies have primarily been on the removal efficiency for unicellular Microcystis spp., with little information about the removal efficiency for filamentous cyanobacteria. This study investigates the efficiency of conventional drinking water treatment processes for the removal of the filamentous cyanobacterium, Oscillatoria limnetica, dominating the source water (Nile River) phytoplankton in seven Egyptian drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs). The study was conducted in May 2013. The filamentous O. limnetica was present at high cell densities (660–1 877 cells/mL) and produced microcystin (MC) cyanotoxin concentrations of up to 877 μg∙g-1, as determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Results also showed that conventional treatment methods removed most phytoplankton cells, but were ineffective for complete removal of O. limnetica. Furthermore, coagulation led to cell lysis and subsequent microcystin release. Microcystins were not effectively removed and remained at high concentrations (0.37–3.8 μg∙L -1) in final treated water, exceeding the WHO limit of 1 μg∙L-1. This study recommends regular monitoring and proper treatment optimization for removing cyanobacteria and their cyanotoxins in DWTPs using conventional methods.

Keywords: cyanobacteria, removal, conventional drinking water treatment
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