12 Mar 2024
 | 12 Mar 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Variable contribution of wastewater treatment plant effluents to nitrous oxide emission

Weiyi Tang, Jeff Talbott, Timothy Jones, and Bess B. Ward

Abstract. Nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-destroying agent, is produced during nitrogen transformations in both natural and human-constructed environments. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) produce and emit N2O into the atmosphere during the nitrogen removal process. However, the impact of WWTPs on N2O emissions in downstream aquatic systems remains poorly constrained. By measuring N2O concentrations at a monthly resolution over a year in the Potomac River Estuary, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay in the eastern United States, we found a strong seasonal variation in N2O concentrations and fluxes: N2O concentrations were larger in fall and winter but the flux was larger in summer and fall. Observations at multiple stations across the Potomac River Estuary revealed hotspots of N2O emissions downstream of WWTPs. N2O concentrations were higher at stations downstream of WWTPs compared to other stations (median: 21.2 nM vs 16.2 nM) despite the similar concentration of dissolved inorganic nitrogen, suggesting the direct discharge of N2O from WWTPs into the aquatic system or a higher N2O production yield in waters influenced by WWTPs. Since wastewater production has increased substantially with the growing population and is projected to continue to rise, accurately accounting for N2O emissions downstream of the WWTPs would better constrain the global N2O emissions. Efficient N2O removal, in addition to dissolved nitrogen removal, should be an essential part of water quality control in WWTPs.

Weiyi Tang, Jeff Talbott, Timothy Jones, and Bess B. Ward

Status: open (until 27 Apr 2024)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-638', Anonymous Referee #1, 02 Apr 2024 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-638', Anonymous Referee #2, 04 Apr 2024 reply
Weiyi Tang, Jeff Talbott, Timothy Jones, and Bess B. Ward
Weiyi Tang, Jeff Talbott, Timothy Jones, and Bess B. Ward


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Short summary
Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are known to be hotspots of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the impact of WWTPs on the emission of the greenhouse gas N2O in downstream aquatic environments is less constrained. We found spatially and temporally variable but overall higher N2O concentrations and fluxes in waters downstream of WWTPs, pointing to the need for efficient N2O removal in addition to treating nitrogen in WWTPs.