Early in history, disposing of wastewater wasn’t a problem. The human population was small enough to be able to dispose of the contaminated water it produced without producing significant environmental damage. Waste was thrown into the nearest river or sea, but it wasn’t large enough in volume to destroy the aquatic ecosystem.
This is No Longer the Case
Populations are far too large and too densely concentrated to be able to use the natural environment to get rid of wastewater in its untreated state.
Sources of Wastewater
One of the main sources of wastewater is from people’s living activities, including water from bathing, sanitation, clothes washing and so on. This water can contain bodily waste with organisms that can spread intestinal diseases.
Another source is industrial wastewater. This is produced by some manufacturing processes and industrial plants. Rinse waters are often part of these processes, and these can contain chemical residues from the industrial processes.
And let’s not forget agriculture. Many people enjoy country walks in the clean air across farmland and ripening crops. What they may not realise is that the run-off from chemicals and fertilisers used on farmland can be a major pollutant as it leaches into rivers and waterways. Heavy rain can often exacerbate this effect.
The Effects of Wastewater Pollution
There are a number of possible effects when contaminated wastewater makes it’s way into water sources such as rivers, streams, water courses, aquifers and the sea.
The effect on marine life can be catastrophic. We know now that dead fish are a sign of severe pollution. But, in fact, many pollutants such as heavy metals, sink to the bottom of the sea or river. What happens next is that the small organisms that are literally bottom-feeders take in a disproportionate amount of the pollutants. The food chain then comes into operation, with small fish feeding on the organisms and then larger fish feeding on the small fish. The pollution is spread through the marine food chain.
From there it enters the human food chain, as fish affected by pollution are caught and eaten. The diseases that can be spread can be chronic and long-lasting, such as the effects of heavy metals.
The more pollutants that enter the seas and rivers, the greater the stress on the fish and other organisms that form the bio-system of all these environments.
Ironically, if the water is polluted and it is then taken to irrigate farmland, the pollution is spread on to crops and can cause acute and life-threatening illnesses.
Drugs – A New Contaminant
There has been a great deal of publicity about the transmission of oestrogens into the water supply that then find their way into the food chain and have effects on male human fertility. The actual effect is quite difficult to measure, but it is a growing concern in the light of falling fertility levels. It goes to show the extent to which companies with waste water management expertise in purifying water and removing contaminants must constantly meet new challenges.
However, legal drugs such as contraceptives are not the only problem. In areas where illegal drugs are a part of the culture, and therefore used by significant numbers, they can be passed via the sewage system into treated water.
Treating Wastewater – Expertise and Knowledge
The reasons for waste water processing couldn’t be clearer. It’s important that companies and providers that are part of the answer in treating wastewater are aware of the full range of environmental and health challenges, because their services need to neutralise all of the dangers posed by untreated wastewater.