Soft sensor predictor of E. coli concentration based on conventional monitoring parameters for wastewater disinfection control

Jacopo Foschi, Andrea Turolla, Manuela Antonelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Real-time acquisition of indicator bacteria concentration at the inlet of disinfection unit is a fundamental support to the control of chemical and ultraviolet wastewater disinfection. Culture-based enumeration methods need time-consuming laboratory analyses, which give results after several hours or days, while newest biosensors rarely provide information about specific strains and outputs are not directly comparable with regulatory limits as a consequence of measurement principles. In this work, a novel soft sensor approach for virtual real-time monitoring of E. coli concentration is proposed. Conventional wastewater physical and chemical indicators (chemical oxygen demand, total nitrogen, nitrate, ammonia, total suspended solids, conductivity, pH, turbidity and absorbance at 254 nm) and flowrate were studied as potential predictors of E. coli concentration relying on data collected from three full-scale wastewater treatment plants. Different methods were compared: (i) linear modeling via ordinary least squares; (ii) ridge regression; (iii) principal component regression and partial least squares; (iv) non-linear modeling through artificial neural networks. Linear soft sensors reached some degree of accuracy, but performances of the artificial neural network based models were by far superior. Sensitivity analysis allowed to prioritize the importance of each predictor and to highlight the site-specific nature of the approach, because of the site-specific nature of relationships between predictors and E. coli concentration. In one case study, pH and conductivity worked as good proxy variables when the occurrence of intense rain events caused sharp increases in E. coli concentration. Differently, in other case studies, chemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, turbidity and absorbance at 254 nm accounted for the positive correlation between low wastewater quality and E. coli concentration. Moreover, sensitivity analysis of artificial neural network models highlighted the importance of interactions among predictors, contributing to 25 to 30% of the model output variance. This evidence, along with performance results, supported the idea that nonlinear families of models should be preferred in the estimation of E. coli concentration. The artificial neural network based soft sensor deployment for control of peracetic acid disinfectant dosage was simulated over a realistic scenario of wastewater quality recorded by on-line sensors over 2 months. The scenario simulations highlighted the significant benefit of an E. coli soft sensor, which provided up to 57% of disinfectant saving.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116806
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2021


  • Artificial neural network
  • Disinfection
  • E. coli
  • Peracetic acid
  • Soft sensor
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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