What Needs to Be Done to Improve Wastewater Treatment?

By Jane Marsh

Microscopic, unsafe substances permeate waterways. Every year, the concentration and diversity of harmful matter rise. Construction workers and engineers in the wastewater sector must improve operations to detect and eliminate elusive contaminants.

Treatment techniques should become more holistic to mitigate unprecedented impurities. Additionally, interdisciplinary collaboration should rework compliance frameworks to be more comprehensive. Improving wastewater shapes healthier water, wildlife and citizens navigating the climate crisis. What can workforces do now to help?

Update Federal Regulatory Standards

Widespread governmental action is the swiftest way to incite wastewater enhancements. Regulatory bodies have multiple avenues to do this. Accountability begins when federal directives institute mandates, such as auditing. Sealing the oversights in widespread legislation like the Clean Water Act is an ideal place to start.

Treatment plants must remain up to date because best practices change often. For example, measuring nitrogen is a vital aspect of wastewater handling. Not long ago, regulations recommended using mercury as a catalyst. Copper is the go-to now. Paying attention to revisions is crucial for efficient, sustainable operations.

Governments can hold industries responsible for removing as many detrimental contaminants as possible before treatment corporations capture water stores. For example, a food packaging manufacturer should implement nontoxic coatings that plants can treat. Wastewater facilities release untreatable, soiled water and byproducts into environments if companies do not assume these duties.

The oversights hurt agriculture. Water organizations repurpose biosolid byproducts from treatment and turn them into fertilizer, which still contains unhealthy matter the company could not extract. Wastewater biosolids have enormous potential to help plants grow, but not when they are still toxic. Recycling water waste must nourish agriculture instead of damaging it. New standards should require testing affected sites to ensure carelessness does not compromise future crop generations.

Bans on Unnecessary Materials

Construction and wastewater workers improve treatment by encouraging material bans. Many predominant contaminants are nonessential. The most notable in recent history are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They appear in countless items, furthering the spread of over 10,000 forever chemicals.

A groundbreaking study revealed that PFASs in toilet paper contaminated 35% of Sweden’s and 89% of France’s waterways. PFASs boost a product’s durability, but it is unnecessary when corn- and clay-based alternatives are available.

Water treatment plants are not required to remove forever chemicals. Many lack sufficient equipment for this task. A lack of bans and enforcement delays slowed the advancement of treatment technology for PFASs and other contaminants, such as:

  • Pesticides
  • Microplastics
  • Antibiotics
  • Plasticizers

Ethical Adsorbent Implementation

Activated charcoal is a common adsorbent, but it comes from fossil fuels. Charcoal is effective at adhering contaminants to its surface, but extraction and recycling adherents require copious amounts of energy. High temperature demands cannot be part of the equation. Workforces must switch to a more ethical option.

Current research wants to leverage pressure cooker regeneration to lower temperatures and expedite adsorption processes. Ethical biochar from wood can undergo hydrothermal treatment to capture contaminants. It reduces prerequisite temperatures by hundreds of degrees and removes the drying process from conventional methods.

The process transforms the adherents into new products, which are ideal in a circular economy. For example, wastewater plants could produce carbon black with new methods, a sustainable and valuable replacement for making plastics and tires.

R&D for Treating Novel Contaminants

Wastewater needs funding for research. New contaminants and variants arise yearly, and familiar pollutants vary in concentrations as consumer and industrial habits change. For example, microplastics did not start undergoing government-regulated studies until 2022 in California. They have been pervasive for decades, impacting everything from human health to tourism.

Treatment plants must support immediate research and funding for novel contaminants before the long-term effects are too much to manage. Forever chemicals and microplastics are prominent, but testing for new medicines and diseases from invasive species is necessary.

Improved testing is essential for less-developed communities and marginalized demographics disproportionately harmed by contaminated water. Pioneering accelerated research to capture the breadth of rising contaminants advocates for environmental justice and water access worldwide.

Circular Economies Start With Wastewater

Wastewater plants can use new treatment methods to reclaim byproducts for ethical consumption. It will make the industry more circular and aware of its resource use. Additionally, it opens opportunities for scaling by finding ways to repurpose what would otherwise go to landfill or pollute waterways. The water treatment sector must remain enthusiastic as it discovers innovative ways to be kinder to the planet and its people.

Author Bio: Jane Marsh is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers green technology, sustainable building and environmental news.