Bacteriophage removal in a full-scale membrane bioreactor (MBR) – Implications for wastewater reuse

Sarah Purnell, James Ebdon, Austen Buck, Martyn Tupper, Huw Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this study was to assess the potential removal efficacy of viruses in a full-scale membrane bioreactor (MBR) wastewater reuse system, using a range of indigenous and ‘spiked’ bacteriophages (phages) of known size and morphology. Samples were taken each week for three months from nine locations at each treatment stage of the water recycling plant (WRP) and tested for a range of microbiological parameters (n=135). Mean levels of faecal coliforms were reduced to 0.3CFU/100ml in the MBR product and were undetected in samples taken after the chlorination stage. A relatively large reduction (5.3 log) in somatic coliphages was also observed following MBR treatment. However, F-specific and human-specific (GB124) phages were less abundant at all stages, and demonstrated log reductions post-MBR of 3.5 and 3.8, respectively. In ‘spiking’ experiments, suspended ‘spiked’ phages (MS2 and B-14) displayed post-MBR log reductions of 2.25 and 2.30, respectively. The removal of these suspended phages, which are smaller than the membrane pore size (0.04μm), also highlights the possible role of the membrane biofilm as an effective additional barrier to virus transmission. The findings from this study of a full-scale MBR system demonstrate that the enumeration of several phage groups may offer a practical and conservative way of assessing the ability of MBR to remove enteric viruses of human health significance. They also suggest that phage removal in MBR systems may be highly variable and may be closely related on the one hand to both the size and morphology of the viruses and, on the other, to whether or not they are attached to solids.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-117
Number of pages9
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2015


  • Full-scale membrane bioreactor
  • Wastewater reuse
  • Virus removal efficacy
  • Bacteriophages
  • Phage morphology
  • Spiking experiments


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