Environmental Impact: How Our Waste Water Impacts The Earth Around Us

March 16, 2017
Environmental Impact: How Our Waste Water Impacts The Earth Around Us

Most people don't think much about what happens to their water once it goes down the drain. Wastewater from residential and industrial sources is a serious issue for communities and the environment. When this water is managed and treated properly, it does not cause harm and can be recycled for a variety of benefits. When it is not managed properly, however, it can cause severe damage to the environment and pose a danger to people. Below we’ll discuss the importance of waste water treatment and how it impacts our environment.                                       

The Dangers Of Untreated Water On Fish

When sewage is not properly managed or treated, the first danger is usually to aquatic life in nearby rivers, lakes or streams. Obviously, chemical contaminants and toxic metals will kill fish and aquatic plants, but even regular sewage will harm aquatic life. Regular organic waste contains large amounts of phosphorus and other fertilizing compounds. This can stimulate an overgrowth of algae and other aquatic plants.

This is not beneficial because these plants also die and must be decomposed. Bacteria are responsible for this decomposition because the bacteria consume oxygen. When the amount of decomposition is manageable, then the bacteria will do their job and there is plenty of oxygen left over for fish and aquatic animals. When the environment is unbalanced, then the bacteria multiply to large amounts and consume all of the oxygen in the water. Fish populations usually experience mass death in these cases.

When the environment is depleted of oxygen, the bacteria will continue to decompose the waste but will switch to anaerobic metabolism instead. This produces more noticeable waste compounds and smelly gases. This environment produces many of the smells of rot decomposition.

The Dangers Of Untreated Water On Groundwater And Humans

Wastewater contains many pathogens that can cause serious infections in humans. This includes infections such as typhoid and cholera. In the modern day, these diseases are almost unheard of because drinking water is properly managed. In the past, these diseases were common and deadly, and the cause was almost always contaminated drinking water.

When sewage is not treated either because of leaks, improper plant management or improperly maintained septic tanks, the waste water and its contaminants eventually penetrates to groundwater sources. This is extremely hazardous because groundwater contamination is difficult to restore. It could cause large amounts of water to become unusable without expensive purification.

Long-Term Dangers To Food And Crops

Untreated wastewater, especially from industrial sources, is often contaminated with various metals. In small amounts, these metals are not harmful, but they are usually heavily concentrated in wastewater. If the water is not properly treated, then the metals will be deposited in the soil and consumed by plants. Many farms and croplands are irrigated primarily by treated wastewater. Over time, these crops will take up larger concentrations of metals, which ultimately contaminates the food supply. Worse, this contamination is extremely difficult to detect.

Wastewater Treatment

Most municipalities handle wastewater by sending it to treatment plants. There are two basic types of wastewater or sewage. Blackwater is sewage from toilets that is more likely to contain solid waste and larger amounts of harmful bacteria or pathogens. Greywater is sewage from all other sources like sinks, showers and washing machines. Greywater is less likely to contain solid waste, but it may still be heavily contaminated with chemicals.

Sewage contains many harmful compounds that must be removed in order to make the water safe again. This includes removing inorganic solid waste like metals and garbage. Much of the organic waste can be naturally decomposed by bacteria. Treatment plants process the wastewater in a series of stages that make the water safe to be discharged back into a regular water source like a river or stream. The water is not usually purified to a drinkable level, but it is safe for aquatic life and plants.

In-Home Treatment

Smaller residential areas or individual homes not connected to municipal water must still manage their sewage properly. This may be done with a small-scale treatment plant or septic system. A septic system uses beneficial bacteria to decompose the solid waste. A homeowner must be careful with the septic system, however, because certain chemicals such as bleach or medications like unused antibiotics can destroy the bacteria in the tank. It can be expensive and time-consuming to restore a tank that has been damaged in this way.

Certain areas allow for limited in-home water treatment systems to be used. These systems partially purify greywater and allow it to be reused for laundry or plants. The water is not drinkable, but it is safe to handle and use for certain household tasks.

Proper water treatment is critical to the environment and human health. It is important for every person to be aware of what happens to their wastewater and minimize the creation of wastewater as much as possible.


Topics: Sustainable Communities, Wastewater Treatment, Water Filtration & Water Quality


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