Removal of polar organic micropollutants by pilot-scale reverse osmosis drinking water treatment

Vittorio Albergamo*, Bastiaan Blankert, Emile R. Cornelissen, Bas Hofs, Willem Jan Knibbe, Walter van der Meer, Pim de Voogt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The robustness of reverse osmosis (RO) against polar organic micropollutants (MPs) was investigated in pilot-scale drinking water treatment. Experiments were carried in hypoxic conditions to treat a raw anaerobic riverbank filtrate spiked with a mixture of thirty model compounds. The chemicals were selected from scientific literature data based on their relevance for the quality of freshwater systems, RO permeate and drinking water. MPs passage and the influence of permeate flux were evaluated with a typical low-pressure RO membrane and quantified by liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry. A strong inverse correlation between size and passage of neutral hydrophilic compounds was observed. This correlation was weaker for moderately hydrophobic MPs. Anionic MPs displayed nearly no passage due to electrostatic repulsion with the negatively charged membrane surface, whereas breakthrough of small cationic MPs could be observed. The passage figures observed for the investigated set of MPs ranged from less than 1%–25%. Statistical analysis was performed to evaluate the relationship between physicochemical properties and passage. The effects of permeate flux were more pronounced for small neutral MPs, which displayed a higher passage after a pressure drop.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-545
Number of pages11
JournalWater research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Drinking water treatment
  • Polar micropollutants (MPs)
  • Reverse osmosis (RO)


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