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Can sludge dewatering reactivate microorganisms in mesophilically digested anaerobic sludge? Case of belt filter versus centrifuge

The anaerobic digestion process that successfully reduces the organic content of sludge is one of the most common alternatives to meet pathogen reduction requirements for particular classes of biosolids. However, recently it was reported that, much higher densities of indicator bacteria were measured in dewatered cake samples compared to samples collected after anaerobic digestion. Additionally, this increase was commonly observed after centrifugation but not after belt filter dewatering. Several hypotheses were tested to explain this occurrence; however, much of the attention was given to the reactivation of the indicator bacteria which might enter a viable but non-culturable state (VBNC) during digestion. The objective of this research is to examine sludge samples from 5 different full-scale treatment plants in order to observe the effect of dewatering processes on the reactivation potential of indicator bacteria. The bacterial enumerations were performed by both Standard Culturing Methods (SCM) and quantitative polymerase chain (qPCR) on samples collected after digestion and dewatering. Results obtained by SCM indicated that in two investigated treatment plants operating belt filter dewatering, an average 0.6 log decrease was observed after the dewatering process. However, 0.7-1.4 log increases were observed immediately after centrifuge dewatering for the other three treatment plants. On the other hand, qPCR results gave 0.1-1.9 log higher numbers compared to SCM. Comparative evaluation of results obtained by two analytical methods for five treatment plants indicates that the differences observed might be originating from both reactivation of VBNC bacteria and amplification of DNA from dead cells found in the sludge. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.