The performance of an upflow anaerobic filter (UAF) treating a chemical synthesis-based pharmaceutical wastewater was evaluated under various operating conditions. During start-up, the UAF was initially fed by glucose till an organic loading rate (OLR) of approximately 7.5 kg COD m(-3) day(-1) with a hydraulic retention time of 2.3 days. A soluble COD removal efficiency of 98% was achieved before the addition of the wastewater. Initially, the filter inertia was acclimatized to the wastewater by sequential feeding of 10% (w/v), 30% (w/v) and 70% (w/v) of the pre-aerated wastewater mixed with glucose followed by a 100% (w/v) pre-aerated wastewater. During the operation, the COD removal efficiency and methane yield decreased to 75% and 0.30 m(3) CH(4)kg(-1) CODremoved respectively. As the UAF became accustomed to the pre-aerated wastewater, raw wastewater was fed in increasing ratios of 20% (w/v), 60% (w/v) and 80% (w/v) with the pre-aerated wastewater as the remaining part. During this stage of the operation, a COD removal efficiency in a range of 77-86% was achieved and the methane yield decreased to 0.24 m(3) CH(4)kg(-1) CODremoved. Finally, 100% (w/v) raw wastewater was fed and a COD removal efficiency of 65% was achieved with a methane yield of 0.20m(3) CH(4)kg(-1) CODremoved. At the end of the operation, acetoclastic methanogenic activity was only measured in the bottom section of the UAF, this showed a 90% reduction in comparison with activity of inoculation sludge. Microscopic examinations revealed that rod-shaped methanogens remained as the dominant species whereas Methanosarcina-like species and filaments were present only in insignificant numbers along the UAF. (C) 2002 Society of Chemical Industry.