Aerobic biological treatment of opium alkaloid containing wastewater as well as the effect of gamma irradiation as pre-treatment was investigated. Biodegradability of raw wastewater was assessed in aerobic batch reactors and was found highly biodegradable (83-90% degradation). The effect of irradiation (40 and 140 kGy) on biodegradability was also evaluated in terms of BOD5/COD values and results revealed that irradiation imparted no further enhancement in the biodegradability. Despite the highly biodegradable nature of wastewater, further experiments in sequencing batch reactors (SBR) revealed that the treatment operation was not possible due to sludge settleability problem observed beyond an influent COD value of 2000 mg dm(-3). Possible reasons for this problem were investigated, and the high molecular weight, large size and aromatic structure of the organic pollutants present in wastewater was thought to contribute to poor settleability. Initial efforts to solve this problem by modifying the operational conditions, such as SRT reduction, failed. However, further operational modifications including addition of phosphate buffer cured the settleability problem and influent COD was increased up to 5000 mg dm(-3). Significant COD removal efficiencies ( > 70%) were obtained in both SBRs fed with original and irradiated wastewaters (by 40 kGy). However, pre-irradiated wastewater provided complete thebain removal and a better settling sludge, which was thought due to degradation of complex structure by radiation application. Degradation of the structure was observed by GC/MS analyses and enhancement in filterability tests. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.