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Luke Garland G00321337

Demonstrating the effect of phytoremediation on sewage effluent using

Lemna sp. (Duckweed)
Phytoremediation is the use of in situ green plants for direct removal, degradation, or containment of
pollutants in soils, sediments, groundwater or surface water (Unep.or.jp, 2016). It is a low cost
technique, as it is solar energy driven (Unep.or.jp, 2016). It is useful for treating a wide variety of
contaminants, but most useful in sites with shallow waters and a reasonably low level of pollution
(Unep.or.jp, 2016). Phytoremediation is defined as the efficient use of plants to remove, detoxify or
immobilise environmental contaminants in a growth matrix (soil, water or sediments) through the
natural biological, chemical or physical activities and processes of the plants (Unep.or.jp, 2016).

There are many ways plants can be used to remediate polluted areas. Plants can break down, filter or
absorb pollutants from the soil, sediment or water(Unep.or.jp, 2016). Plants mainly take up the
contaminants through their roots, where they have mechanisms to prevent contaminant toxicity
(Unep.or.jp, 2016). Due to the massive surface area of the roots, plants can absorb a huge amount of
pollutants daily. It has been found through research that large trees are extremely effective in
remediating deep soils due to the fact their root system is much deeper and more spread
out(Unep.or.jp, 2016). Phytoremediation can be used alone or alongside with mechanical remediation
techniques (Unep.or.jp, 2016). It can save a massive amount of money as mechanical remediation
techniques usually require a lot of investment, labour and energy (Unep.or.jp, 2016).

There are many advantages to phytoremediation. It is far less expensive than previous methods of
remediation (Cem.msu.edu, 2016). It can remove up to 95% of contaminants just by planting plants
and leaving them to grow in the polluted area (Cem.msu.edu, 2016). It takes no maintenance at all
once it is put in place, compared to mechanical remediation where various things can go wrong and
need to be fixed (Cem.msu.edu, 2016). It causes no visual pollution as plants are a natural aesthetically
pleasing object compared to large machines (Cem.msu.edu, 2016). It can bring wildlife back to the
polluted area once the plants have started to grow (Cem.msu.edu, 2016).

Despite all the advantages of phytoremediation there are still some issues with it. It is limited to sites
with quite low pollutant concentrations (Cem.msu.edu, 2016). It is restricted to the depth it can
remediate by the depth of the roots of the species of plant being used (Cem.msu.edu, 2016). The food
chain in the area can be effected by the degradation of the chemicals in the soil (Cem.msu.edu, 2016).
The air can be contaminated if the plants used are ever burnt as all the pollutants the plant absorbed
over its life will be let off into the atmosphere (Cem.msu.edu, 2016).

There is a massive amount of plant species that can be used in phytoremediation and all have different
pros and cons depending on what the contaminant is that is being targeted. The five most popular
plants for phytoremediation are: Indian mustard (Brassica juncea L.), Willow (Salix species), Poplar
tree (Populus deltoides), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and the Sunflower (Helianthus Annuus L.)
(Elisa Garca, 2016). Indian mustard is mainly used due to its ability to accumulate large amounts of
heavy metals while producing large amounts of biomass at the same time (Elisa Garca, 2016). Indian
mustard also removed radioactive substances from Chernobyl in the 1980s (Elisa Garca, 2016).
Willow species is also used to accumulate heavy metals but as well as this it is known to be very
efficient in diesel and fuel polluted sites (Elisa Garca, 2016). The poplar tree is used in areas with
polluted water as its root system can take in massive amounts of water and cleanse it (Elisa Garca,
2016). Indian grass is used in areas with polluted soils and groundwater but as well as this it is one of
nine plants capable of absorbing petroleum hydrocarbons, a by-product of burning petrol in cars, so

Luke Garland G00321337

it is often planted along the roadside to help absorb these chemicals (Elisa Garca, 2016). The
sunflower is used because it is an extremely quick growing plant, so it starts remediating the area
almost instantly, it can take in a massive amount of a wide variety of contaminants (Elisa Garca, 2016).

Lemna is a very tolerant plant, it can be found in slow moving waters all over the world and can live in
areas with a pH below 4 (Aquaticplantcentral.com, 2016). Lemna sp. Have been used in many previous
studies. It is known to remove herbicides and pesticides from contaminated areas (Dosnon-Olette et
al., 2011).

The aims of this experiment are: to measure the levels of nutrients and BOD in a sample of treated
sewage effluent and to assess the effectiveness of Lemna at removing nutrients from the effluent and
reducing BOD. The hypothesis is: Lemna sp. will lower the amount of contaminants in a sewage sample
over 10 days.


Amount of Dilution
Effluent Volume effluent needed Concentration Factor
Solutions conc. (ml/L) Required to make dilutions Factor (CF) (DF)
1 1 500ml - 0.001 1000
2 0.1 500ml 50 0.0001 10000
3 0.01 500ml 5 0.00001 100000
Control 0
Table 1: Concentrations required for different replicates

Effluent - Effluent - After Effluent - After

Before treatment treatment
treatment (Lemna) (control)
Nitrates (mg/l) 12.6 4.6 6.2
(mg/l) 0.182 -0.002 0.195
Dissolved oxygen
(mg/l) 7.81 10.63 10.67
(TDS)(S/cm) 976 728 858
Table 2: water chemistry results before and after treatment

Effluent - Effluent -
Effluent - Distilled After After
Before 0.1 0.01 water treatment treatment
treatment Effluent Effluent (control) (Lemna) (Control)
DOinitial 6.82 8.58 8.52 8.39 - -
DOfinal/ DOinitial 3.63 8.2 8.22 8.27 10.63 10.67
DOfinal - - - - 7.66 6.61
Reduction in DO 3.19 0.38 0.3 0.12
Table 3: Dissolved oxygen readings before and after treatment

Luke Garland G00321337

Groups Group BOD5 No BOD5 With

leader Lemna (mg/L) Lemna (mg/L)
1 4.54 5.07
2 4.66 3.82
3 2.03 10.08
4 2.30 7.45
5 0 10.24
6 12.18 6.97
7 10.30 5.17
8 10.67 2.97
Mean BOD5 5.84 6.47
Standard deviation 4.30 2.53
Table 4: class results for BOD

On day 1 results were taken for Nitrates (12.6mg/l), Phosphates (0.182mg/l) DO (7.81mg/l) and
Conductivity (976S/cm). After 10 days, results were taken from the sample treated with Lemna and
the control. The sample that was treated with Lemna got results of: Nitrates (4.6mg/l), Phosphates (-
0.002mg/l) DO (10.63mg/l) and Conductivity (728S/cm). These results show an increase in general
water quality, the drop in nitrate, phosphate and conductivity levels show that ions have been
removed from the sample by the Lemna sp.. The rise in dissolved oxygen levels show that more oxygen
has been freed up in the sample giving the sample better overall quality. The results of the control
were: Nitrates (6.2mg/l), Phosphates (0.195mg/l) DO (10.67mg/l) and Conductivity (858S/cm). these
results also show an increase in water quality but not to the same extent as the sample that was
treated with Lemna.

The samples treated with Lemna had a mean BOD5 of 6.47mg/l, whereas the control had a BOD5 of
5.84mg/l. This gives a wrong result as the cleaner the water the lower the BOD reading should be. Half
of the groups had expected results (the BOD of the control to be higher than that of the Lemna treated
sample) and half had unexpected results.

It is known that Lemna sp. Can be very effective at removing nutrients and lowering the BOD reading
but unfortunately this wasnt shown in this experiment.

Overall the experiment came out with poor and unexpected results, this may be down to the sample
of effluent used, the specimen of Lemna sp. May not have been fully healthy to begin with or it may
be down to human error. This is the most likely cause as no one doing the experiments had performed
BOD measurements before.

Luke Garland G00321337

- Unep.or.jp. (2016). What Is Phytoremediation. [online] Available at:
http://www.unep.or.jp/Ietc/Publications/Freshwater/FMS2/1.asp# [Accessed 22 Nov. 2016].
- Cem.msu.edu. (2016). Advantages and Disadvantages. [online] Available at:
sadvantages.htm [Accessed 22 Nov. 2016].
- Elisa Garca, w. (2016). 5 Best Plants for Phytoremediation. [online] Landscape Architects
Network. Available at: http://landarchs.com/5-best-plants-for-phytoremediation/ [Accessed
22 Nov. 2016].
- Aquaticplantcentral.com. (2016). Cite a Website - Cite This for Me. [online] Available at:
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/plantfinder/details.php?id=131 [Accessed
22 Nov. 2016].
- Dosnon-Olette, R., Couderchet, M., Oturan, M., Oturan, N. and Eullaffroy, P. (2011).
Potential Use of Lemna Minor for the Phytoremediation of Isoproturon and Glyphosate.
International Journal of Phytoremediation, 13(6), pp.601-612.