Assessment of the disinfection capacity and eco-toxicological impact of atmospheric cold plasma for treatment of food industry effluents

Apurva Patange, Daniela Boehm, Michelle Giltrap, Peng Lu, P. J. Cullen, Paula Bourke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Generation of wastewater is one of the main environmental sustainability issues across food sector industries. The constituents of food process effluents are often complex and require high energy and processing for regulatory compliance. Wastewater streams are the subject of microbiological and chemical criteria, and can have a significant eco-toxicological impact on the aquatic life. Thus, innovative treatment approaches are required to mitigate environmental impact in an energy efficient manner. Here, dielectric barrier discharge atmospheric cold plasma (ACP) was evaluated for control of key microbial indicators encountered in food industry effluent. This study also investigated the eco-toxicological impact of cold plasma treatment of the effluents using a range of aquatic bioassays. Continuous ACP treatment was applied to synthetic dairy and meat effluents. Microbial inactivation showed treatment time dependence with significant reduction in microbial populations within 120 s, and to undetectable levels after 300 s. Post treatment retention time emerged as critical control parameter which promoted ACP bacterial inactivation efficiency. Moreover, ACP treatment for 20 min achieved significant reduction (≥2 Log10) in Bacillus megaterium endospores in wastewater effluent. Acute aquatic toxicity was assessed using two fish cell lines (PLHC-1 and RTG-2) and a crustacean model (Daphnia magna). Untreated effluents were toxic to the aquatic models, however, plasma treatment limited the toxic effects. Differing sensitivities were observed to ACP treated effluents across the different test bio-assays in the following order: PLHC-1 > RTG-2 ≥ D. magna; with greater sensitivity retained to plasma treated meat effluent than dairy effluent. The toxic effects were dependent on concentration and treatment time of the ACP treated effluent; with 30% cytotoxicity in D. magna and fish cells observed after 24 h of exposure to ACP treated effluent for concentrations up to 5%. The findings suggest the need to employ wider variety of aquatic organisms for better understanding and complete toxicity evaluation of long-term effects. The study demonstrates the potential to tailor ACP system parameters to control pertinent microbial targets (mono/poly-microbial, vegetative or spore form) found in complex and nutritious wastewater effluents whilst maintaining a safe eco-toxicity profile for aquatic species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-307
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Aquatic toxicity
  • Atmospheric cold plasma
  • Bacterial inactivation
  • Dairy and meat effluent
  • Wastewater treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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