SAINT LOUIS, MO (October 7, 2022) – When we think of ancient Rome, many of us envision those civil engineering marvels, the aqueducts, a feat so ahead of its time that to gaze upon such structures today still elicits a level of awe not typically associated with…wastewater?!
Indeed, today we prefer to keep such structures out of sight. Because out of sight is after all, often out of mind.
With the urgency to address climate change, energy conservation and all the associated health hazards that have a direct impact on our environment and our communities, it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come with sanitation versus where we are today – and equally important – to ask ourselves what our role is in this process.
We can begin with the definition of wastewater, which simplified, is any waste stream discharged from a household or business into the community collection system. And although all bodies of water are affected by natural conditions, the concept of pollution typically implies human activity as the source of contamination. This means that water pollution is caused primarily by the drainage of contaminated wastewater into surface water or groundwater. (1)
Wastewater treatment is, therefore, a major element of water pollution control and as such, truly merits a front and center spot on our collective radar.
Treatment facilities today remove impurities contained in our wastewater. These impurities are what travel down the drain of our kitchen sink, dishwasher, washing machine, and yes of course our toilet. The sewer systems today carry a community’s wastewater to the local wastewater treatment facility where it is treated before being safely discharged into the environment – with two very key words: “treated” and “safely”.
First, the wastewater goes through a pre-treatment phase where it is screened for large debris such as plastic, paper, rags, wipes, and related hygiene products (regardless of whether they are termed “flushable”; they really are not, as it takes too long for such particles to break down during this process).
Once this is done, the wastewater is treated with oxygen and microorganisms, uniformly dispersed throughout the water. These microorganisms break down the organic solid waste that is in the wastewater. Licensed operators closely measure and adjust the amount of oxygen and microorganisms in the treatment facility to make sure these microorganisms stay alive and healthy as they do their work. If at any point the balance is off and the microorganisms don’t have what they need, they die which can result in a foul smell and untreated wastewater being discharged.
Once the microorganisms have naturally consumed the solid organic waste in the wastewater and the remaining solids are removed, the water is then disinfected, allowing it to be safely released back into local streams, creeks, and rivers.
As your water utility operating company, our mission is to safeguard your community while also protecting your surrounding environment. It’s an important part of the cycle of life, and we are proud to be responsible custodians together with you.
Take a moment to watch this 2-minute video clip from the World Bank to see how treated wastewater can be a resource: https://youtu.be/xwGLXRGT_qI
(1) Ambulkar, Archis and Nathanson, Jerry A.. “wastewater treatment”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Sep. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/technology/wastewater-treatment. Accessed 22 September 2022.