Wastewater Regulations – From Disease to Toxins to Nutrients to Endocrine Disrupters

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The regulation of sanitary waste began by focusing on pathogens causing disease (germs). When medical science was able to demonstrate the link between disease and contaminated drinking water, the regulatory activity was aimed primarily at protecting the drinking water from germs. Thousands of people died of cholera between 1830 and 1880 before the discovery of the link with contaminated drinking water. Still, the 1939 cholera outbreak in Lexington, Kentucky, killed 1,500 people in 10 days. To date, epidemics of hepatitis, e-coli and dysentery caused by contaminated water are still occasional in the country.

During the 1800s, the United States moved from a population drawing its water directly from lakes, rivers, springs and wells to an urban population with water coming from water treatment plants. ;water. Water source protection and water treatment regulations were therefore even more important: if the central plant distributed bad water, an entire city could fall ill or die. State, county and municipal health departments have put in place increasingly detailed regulations to protect the public from bad drinking water. Water treatment and wastewater discharge have become more regulated.

In the mid-1900s, a second outbreak appeared: toxins in the water supply. The most visible were acid rain and mercury, but many more toxic chemicals and trace metals were found in our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater sources. Considerable efforts have been made to determine the quality of water in each source of supply. Research has also been conducted to determine the degree of toxicity of different pollutants, their dangerous levels and the damage they could cause to humans.

Then comes the realization that nutrients contaminate the water supply. The problem with nutrients in the water is that they promote the growth of living organisms, which in turn triggers a chain of ecological events that ruins water and can create toxic conditions in rivers, wells, aquifers and lakes.

Fertilizers are an important source of these nutrients but not the only one. There are also nutrients from hog and poultry farms that enter the water supply. This, for example, is attributed to most of the pollution in Cheasapeake Bay. In addition, nutrients are present in all human health waste. Our bodies being digested create and eliminate nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as by-products.

Nearly half of the homes in our country are equipped with septic tanks. Septic systems do not usually eliminate nitrogen, phosphate or potassium. It has always been assumed that a septic tank properly installed in the soil would introduce these nutrients into the soil sufficiently far above the water table that they become part of the soil without entering the water table. Now this hypothesis is questioned.

Nutrients introduce a whole new dimension to the discussion, very different from the concerns of diseases and toxins. Germs can be killed and die quickly in the soil. Metal contaminants can be filtered and chemical discharges can be prohibited. But nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are not living organisms to kill and they can not be filtered easily. What to do with nutrients is a serious problem for the septic industry and the wastewater treatment plants.

Now enter a fourth goal: chemicals harmful to the endocrine system, as described in the Newsweek issue of June 4, 2007. We can expect a lot more information on how the accumulation of traces of chemicals in shampoos, cosmetics, shaving lotions, skin creams, dishwashing liquids, pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, drugs and other household genetic damage.

It was a long and painful journey away from the good old days of plenty of safe water and worry about what happened with our human waste. We will always have plenty of water and we will find ways to make it safe again. But it will not be cheap.


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