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2008: "Water To Waste." education publication.

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2008 logoOnsite Wastewater of Northwest Michigan
2008: "Water To Waste." education publication - Return To Main Index

Water To Waste Section Six And Seven: The many amazing things that end up in the waste stream and why we should be careful and concerned.

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The Six 'P's: When there's more to 'poo' than meets the eye!
Part One - Cleaning Products and Pharmaceuticals
Part Two - Personal Care Products, Pesticides and Phosphorus

We know that today’s wastewater systems receive, treat, and attempt to remove, an ever increasing chemical cocktail of man-made products, the inter-reaction of which is largely unknown. Many in the scientific and environmental communities are asking the obvious question. How good a job are they doing? Considering the cost, what is the most critical need to address first?
The average American now lives well past their 70th birthday, rarely comes down with dysentery from contaminated water or sees entire fields of crops wiped out by locusts. These are things we take for granted - but the law of unintended consequences applies.

Chemical components in many of the household, agricultural or commercial products we use, and dispose of, every day are not easily removed during either municipal or septic system wastewater treatment. Additional treatment costs, often in an attempt to eliminate a chemical component of treatment itself can be extreme. For example a common method of disinfection is chlorination but Chlorine is a toxic substance that can react with other commonly used products to create further hazards. Any chlorine left at the end of the treatment process has to be removed prior to discharge to a surface water body.
It can also mean serious trouble for your treatment field which could now be flooded with decaying debris, fats and floating materials that should never leave the tank except courtesy of a septic hauler truck.
Excessive water use is money from your pocket.
Consider this,and the limited space in your tank the next time you run multiple loads of laundry.

Ultra Violet disinfection alternative has grown in popularity in the past 20 years. Just as UV can alter and change your skin tone and structure, it alters the molecular structure of harmful pathogens. The downside is higher cost of initial investment and keeping UV bulbs clean is time consuming. Bulbs that become coated with the oils and grease commonly found in wastewater act as if they had sunglasses on. At one plant an unexpected problem arose when a local manufacturer won a contract to make desert uniform fabric - which used UV-resistant dye.

The bonus is that UV treated wastewater can be reused for non-potable, reclaimed water purposes such as irrigation. The most effective solution to minimizing How many chemical products find their way into our surface and ground waters lies in your hands. Use such products sparingly. Use the correct amounts. Dispose of the containers safely or store until there is a hazardous waste collection in your community. Check with your local MSU Extension, or Conservation District to see when one is scheduled. NEVER pour unwanted products down the drain or in any outside location where rain could wash it into the storm drain! And, PLEASE, read THE LABEL!!


Recent mainstream news accounts passed on an alarming finding that much of the U.S. drinking water supply is being tainted by trace amounts of pharmaceuticals.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs found in the water used by over 40 million Americans included antibiotics, mood stabilizers, hormones, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. This serious development should come as no surprise to pumpers, who have been concerned about the impact of medications on septic systems and, ultimately, our precious water supply. Liquid waste professionals fired a warning shot about drugs tainting the waste stream in a November 2006 installment of Pumper® Online.

The Pumper community had been abuzz over this issue when one contractor pointed out he noticed an increased failure rate of drainfields serving septic systems at senior citizen housing complexes. The upshot of that discussion was that increased medications — especially chemotherapy regimens — take a huge toll on the bacterial action in a septic tank.

“I went to a class at the University of Wisconsin where it was said the bacteria is found to be dying in septic tanks where people are on chemotherapy. The body only uses about 30 percent of medications put into it,’’ one pumper said at the time.

From the news accounts, it’s clear that not enough is known about the danger of trace amounts of meds reaching the drinking water supply. But we can assume it would be better if we do whatever we can to limit the tainting of municipal water supplies or the water table beneath onsite septic systems. For the pumping community, two immediate courses of action come to mind:
1: Monitor septic tanks closely and talk to customers if you encounter a “dead’’ tank. One pumper said the tank of a customer using a lot of medications emitted a different odor prior to a drainfield failure he believes was caused by the drugs. Another reported pumpers have found septic tanks to be void of any real solids and contain an abnormally thick scum layer. Drainfield failure itself could be another clue. If you see signs of something going wrong with a customer’s system, ask if  someone in the home is using a lot of prescription medications. Then talk to your local health department officials and other pumpers about ways to counteract medications that appear to be killing off bacteria in the tank.
2: Stress responsible disposal of unused drugs. Dealing with medications that end up in human waste is a challenge that may be difficult to overcome. But stopping your customers from flushing unused pills down the toilet is an easier problem to reverse. Tell your customers about it and urge them to participate for the good of public health and the preservation of their septic system. The early awareness of the dangers of medications in the waste stream by the pumping community once again stresses an important role the industry plays: You’re concerned environmentalists. By Jim Kneiszel, Editor Pumper Magazine May 2008 www.pumper.com

Onsite Wastewater of Northwest Michigan, through the generosity and environmental stewardship of Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, is currently engaged in moderating a stakeholder group with the intent of creating a regional, sustainable strategy for collection and safe disposal of pharmaceutical products and a comprehensive, collaborative public education campaign.

Sensible advice from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, in agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to crush leftover and unwanted pharmaceuticals, mix with something unpleasant such as soiled cat litter, reseal in the bottle, double bag and dispose of in the garbage NOT down the toilet. However, with a growing law enforcement problem of illicit use and sale of prescription drugs, clearly a comprehensive strategy for safe disposal is needed.

A good disposal advice resource is www.epa.gov/ppcp/ or Illinois/Indiana Sea Grant Program: www.iisgcp.org/unwantedmeds/

Of particular concern have been antibiotic and hormone components. New research to identify a catalyst for destruction of estrogen has shown considerable promise. Published in American Chemical Society Environmental Science and Technology, the paper reference is 42 (4), 1296–1300, 2008. 10.1021/es7022863 Web Release Date: January 16, 2008 Copyright © 2008 American Chemical Society. Check with your local library for access.

An excellent article by Pete Hildebrandt, summarizing ongoing research being conducted by a number of agencies can be read in Jan/Feb 2007 Onsite Water at www.onsitewater.com One issue yet to be resolved is a determination on what percentage of pharmaceutical products now appearing in water sources is coming through normal human excretion and how much is from disposal. At what levels should we become concerned, what is the scientific evidence for accumulation in aquatic organism tissue, is this multiplying as components move up the food chain? The uncomfortable, and discomforting, fact is we simply don’t know - yet.

Part Two - Personal Care Products, Pesticides and Phosphorus

Water To Waste Section Two: Water / Energy Efficiency information and EPA WaterSense Program

Water To Waste Section Three: The inter-relationship between water use, wastewater, the water cycle and wastewater systems.

Water To Waste Section Four: Common sense information about how your wastewater system works

Water To Waste Section Five: Installation, siting, operation and maintenance.

Water To Waste Section Eight and Nine: The state of our region - an attempt to survey wastewater systems.

Water To Waste Section Ten: The Case For Community Management

Water To Waste Section Eleven: Small community options, choices and solutions

Water To Waste Section Twelve: Understanding northwest Michigan geography and geology and how this relates to wastewater.

Water To Waste Section Thirteen: Information about different types of wastewater systems and case studies.

Water To Waste Section Fourteen: A terrible waste to waste - when there's money to be made and saved by innovation.

Water To Waste Section Fifteen: A word about who we are and our goals for the future - how you can help.

Water To Waste Section Sixteen: Gratitude to our sponsors and links to more information.

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