The psychology of water reuse Part II
I wanted to follow up on the NPR story of "Why Cleaned Wastewater Stays Dirty in Our Minds" and the public thinking that "directly reusing former sewage water was just plain gross."
As I approach my one year anniversary in the wastewater treatment and water reuse industry, what I find to be "just plain gross" is the amount of direct discharge of untreated wastewater into creeks, streams, rivers and lakes that takes place in the U.S.
I know from distributors in West Virginia and Alabama that this is taking place in communities and municipalities in these two states. I have no doubt that it takes place in every state in the nation, we just don't know the degree to which it takes place.
Theoretically any facility that discharges wastewater directly to surface water must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the EPA or the state. I say theoretically because political pressure to ease already lax EPA standards that were gutted during the 1990's already has facilities practicing unauthorized direct discharge knowing the EPA has neither the staff nor the authority to penalize them.
If you think it's gross to drink treated wastewater, what are your thoughts on drinking untreated wastewater? Given that we are all downstream from someone else, unless you live in northern Canada or Alaska, you are drinking treated wastewater.
Domestic sewage contains a wide variety of dissolved and suspended impurities. A wastewater treatment, like a peat fiber biofilter, system can remove greater than 90% of these impurities. The effluent is then discharged through a drip field or pad and dispersed into the soil where the other 10% of the impurities are removed.
Membranes, while more expensive, can remove more than 95 percent of biochemical oxygen demand, 98 percent of total suspended solids and 99 percent of ammonia and phosphorus. Excess phosphorus from human waste, animal waste, laundry, cleaning and industrial effluents and fertilizer runoff is what is killing virtually every lake, river, pond and stream in the U.S.
Onsite wastewater treatment solutions provide excellent quality effluent and reduce the reliance on large-scale wastewater treatment facilities which, during storms, can be overloaded and end up dumping untreated wastewater directly into our waterways.
Rather than being concerned about drinking treated wastewater, don't you think it would be a better use of all of our efforts to stop the direct discharge of untreated wastewater?
I think we, and future generations, will be healthier for it.
Tom Smith Tom Smith is the former director of operations and marketing at Anua. Tom is driving demand for wastewater treatment, water reuse, rainwater harvesting and odor/VOC control solutions. He has a B.A. from Duke University and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business.