Everyone tries not to think about the waste they produce, especially when it seems so unnecessary. The wastewater from your laundry, dishwasher, and toilet simply disappears, and we can all just get on with our lives, right? If only it were that simple.
Depending on what area of America you live in, your water might go to a septic tank or municipal water plant. What happens to our sewage inadvertently affects us all. If this sewage water doesn’t go where it is supposed to, it can contaminate our surface water and harm humans and the entire ecosystem, stretching far beyond just one area.
How Septic Tanks Work
About 20% of Americans have their sewage water treated by a septic tank, and most of those people are perfectly aware of where their sewage water is going. This is because septic tank owners are solely responsible for the maintenance of their water treatment system. A septic tank system works by carrying the waste through underground pipes to the tank. The waste and water naturally separate within the tank. This wastewater is then pushed out of the septic tank to a drain field that fertilizes the soil and where naturally occurring organisms remove harmful, dangerous bacteria, minerals, and viruses. The solid layer stays behind in the form of sludge that must be pumped out routinely for maintenance. If the tank is maintained correctly, the bacteria and viruses remain away from our drinking water and the surface water we swim in.
How Municipal Water Plants Work
Wastewater is essentially all water that has been used, whether it was flushed down the toilet or went down the drain. At some municipal water plants, the run-off from the rain and industrial water is treated as well. Combined water plants primarily exist near the Great Lakes and the New England area because their water treatment plants are quite old. However, their water is treated using the same steps as water in other parts of the nation.
Water treatment plants mimic nature’s naturally occurring process of keeping our water clean but they do it faster.
Step 1: Screening
To begin with, the sewage water is pulled to the treatment plant by gravity. The first step in treating sewage water is simply filtering out all debris, like toilet paper, diapers, and plastics removed from the water. Anything that could damage the water filtration equipment is sent to the landfill. Next, the wastewater is transferred to a tank where the pollutants in the water are further separated. The heavier matter called sludge sinks to the bottom of the tank, and all the fats and oils from the wastewater float to the top. Both materials are filtered out from the wastewater before it moves on to the next stage of treatment.
Step 2: Aeration and Sedimentation
The next stage of wastewater treatment is two steps, but they function as one. The first part of this process is called aeration, and it’s not as complicated as it might sound. The wastewater, air, and cultivated microorganisms are combined. These microorganisms consume the leftover human waste from the water, just like they would in nature.
After this part is complete, the water endures another round of sedimentation to remove the microorganisms called activated sludge from the wastewater. The activated sludge is then treated once again to reduce the bacteria within it. Once the activated sludge has gone through this treatment process, it is now considered a biosolid suitable for agriculture. Otherwise, it may be sent off to a landfill.
Step 3: Disinfection
At this point, the wastewater is nearly clean. The water is filtered once more to remove any leftover particles before it is finally disinfected. Various methods may disinfect the water, like UV light, ozone, or peroxide, but the most common practice is chlorine. To do this, the water is placed in a basin and must be allowed to sit until all the harmful microorganisms have been eradicated. Now, the water is considered “reclaimed.” While we don’t use reclaimed water for drinking or swimming, it is typically used for non-edible water crops or construction sites.
Contaminated Water: A Danger to Us All
While it might seem like America has got the sewage water treatment process down, there are many flaws within the system. Many pipes that lead back to water treatment plants date back to the 1800s and desperately need to be replaced. The American Water Works Association has estimated that one million miles worth of pipes requires repair or replacement. Many water treatment plants were not built to handle such a large amount of water. If you combine the sewage water produced by a high population with heavy rainwater, sometimes there is more water than our systems are equipped to handle. This can lead to run-off that seeps into our surface water and can contaminate the water we swim in and drink. This is why there’s a surge of gastrointestinal problems after it rains. This deadly mixture of stormwater and water treatment waste is the cause of algal blooms responsible for killing wildlife in places like Toledo, Ohio. The EPA has calculated that there are anywhere from 23,000 to 75,000 sanitary-sewer overflows that occur per year.
The Science of Water
Even though water treatment plants do their best to keep our water clean, there’s always a slight risk that your water could be contaminated. Luckily, there are safety precautions you can take, such as investing in a water filter for your home. Puronics water residential water treatment systems are here to help.
At the Science of Water, we install Puronics filtration systems that will keep your water safe from harmful contaminants so that you have the purest water possible throughout your entire house. If you’re concerned about your water quality, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free water test.
Marketing by Joseph Studios