Recently, I was doing a microscopic examination of an industrial activated sludge plant's mixed liquor. Microscopic exams are a very good way to monitor a biological system's overall health. With a simple microscope having 10x and 40x objectives, an operator within 5 minutes can obtain very important information that can reveal: (1) warnings of potential toxic upset, (2) estimate changes in soluble BOD & COD, (3) predict issues with effluent suspended solids (TSS) and turbidity, and (4) determine impact of new influent streams on biomass. Knowledge of any one of these variables is important, but the ability to cover all variables with an easy 5 minute test with no extensive equipment or reagents makes it a double benefit to doing frequent microscopic exams.
When doing a microscopic exam at 100x or 400x magnification, the bacteria do not appear particularly distinctive. In fact, free bacteria are the small round, oval, or rods that appear to be bouncing around in the water. Bacteria in biofilm or floc appear as larger aggregates that should be evaluated for size and density. However, what we usually note in microscopic exams are the protozoa that are associated with the bacteria. The observed protozoa are highly dependent upon water quality which is why frequent use of microscopic exam can establish a baseline and any changes is readily apparent.
The organisms pictured above is a stalk ciliate. This protozoa is found in systems with low soluble BOD, good floc formation that allows for stalk attachment, and sufficient dissolved oxygen. Any toxic shocks will cause stalk ciliates to detach from the floc or disappear completely.
Erik Rumbaugh has been involved in biological waste treatment for over 20 years. He has worked with industrial and municipal wastewater facilities to ensure optimal performance of their treatment systems. He is a founder of Aster Bio (www.asterbio.com) specializing in biological waste treatment.
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