Evaluating Microbial and Chemical Hazards in Commercial Struvite Recovered from Wastewater

Rachel A. Yee, Mats Leifels, Candis Scott, Nicholas J. Ashbolt, Yang Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

27 Citations (Scopus)


Controlled struvite (NH4MgPO4·6H2O) precipitation has become a well-known process for nutrient recovery from wastewater treatment systems to alleviate the pressures of diminishing, finite rock phosphate reservoirs. Nonetheless, coprecipitation of potential microbial and chemical hazards is poorly understood. On the other hand, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global public health concern and wastewater is thought to disseminate resistance genes within bacteria. Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) are typically used as measures of treatment quality, and with multiresistant E. coli and Enterococcus spp. rising in concern, the quantification of FIB can be used as a preliminary method to assess the risk of AMR. Focusing on struvite produced from full-scale operations, culture and qPCR methods were utilized to identify FIB, antibiotic resistance genes, and human enteric viruses in the final product. Detection of these hazards occurred in both wet and dry struvite samples indicating that there is a potential risk that needs further consideration. Chemical and biological analyses support the idea that the presence of other wastewater components can impact struvite formation through ion and microbial interference. While heavy metal concentrations met current fertilizer standards, the presence of K, Na, Ca, and Fe ions can impact struvite purity yet provide benefit for agricultural uses. Additionally, the quantified hazards detected varied among struvite samples produced from different methods and sources, thus indicating that production methods could be a large factor in the risk associated with wastewater-recovered struvite. In all, coprecipitation of metals, fecal indicator bacteria, antimicrobial resistance genes, and human enteric viruses with struvite was shown to be likely, and future engineered wastewater systems producing struvite may require additional step(s) to manage these newly identified public health risks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5378-5386
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 07 May 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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