More reasons to worry about wastewater effluents

25 November 2011

A substantial portion of the flows into South Africa’s inland dams is made up of “treated” wastewater effluent – sewage effluents.  Although “treated”, these effluents still contain a vast slew of nasties that are not removed by the basic wastewater treatment processes.  In cases where the infrastructure collapse and the horrors revealed by the “Green Drop Report” (?), then the load of pollutants, into the environment and into the source of most of the nations drinking water, becomes substantially worse.

We read more and more about the ravages of disease-causing organisms that have become resistant to antibiotics, the so-called multi-drug resistant strains.  Well,

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop in the gastrointestinal tracts of people taking antibiotics. These bacteria are then shed during defecation, which is collected by the existing sewer infrastructure and passed through a municipal wastewater treatment facility.

A new University of Minnesota study reveals that the release of treated municipal wastewater – even wastewater treated by the highest-quality treatment technology – can have a significant effect on the quantities of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, often referred to as “superbacteria,” in surface waters.

The study also suggests that wastewater treated using standard technologies probably contains far greater quantities of antibiotic-resistant genes, but this likely goes unnoticed because background levels of bacteria are normally much higher than in the water studied in this research.

Antibiotic use in agriculture has been heavily scrutinized, while the role of treated municipal wastewater has received little attention as a reservoir of resistance.

Everyone has heard of Palm Beach.  Well, they are the latest on the list of places striving to reduce nutrient pollution in their waterways:

Fertilizer washing off lawns after rainstorms pollutes waterways, leading to water-quality problems, fish kills and damage to ocean reefs.  To improve water quality, the county proposes new rules targeting the companies homeowners hire to tend to the sod that blankets neighborhoods.

Those increased nutrient levels fuel algae blooms and other problems with water clarity and quality that can lead to massive fish kills and also kill off sea grasses and reefs that provide vital marine habitat.

Palm Beach County proposes new restrictions on companies that apply fertilizer to lawns and other landscaping.  Those companies would have to be certified by the county in techniques for applying fertilizer and landscaping in ways that reduce the runoff of pollutants into local waters, and would be prohibited from blowing yard clippings into sewage drains, for example. Violators could face maximum fines $1,000 fines per violation initially and up to $5,000 for repeat offenders.  These rules would apply to areas outside city limits, but cities also are required to approve fertilizer rules by 2014.

In Queensland, Brisbane’s Einbunpin Lagoon (don’t you just love the Aussie indigenous placenames? – although a pity they pay more attention to using the indigenous history than they do about looking after the indigenous inhabitants) has all sorts of problems, including cyanobacteria.

For the past few months both the Einbunpin and Dowse Lagoons in Sandgate were tested for blue green algae toxins. Cllr Newton said for the last four weeks each test had returned a non-toxic result however warning signs were erected as a precaution.

Also in Oz, an algal alert at Lake Ainsworth has been lifted.

Across the big Pacific Pond to the Dorothy State, Lawrence City is undertaking an after-the-fact study of algal bloom problems they experienced this year.  The following statement shows they still have a LOT to learn about!

… the city wants to learn more about how much blue-green algae was in the untreated water that the plant was taking from the Kaw. The issue of blue-green algae has not been extensively studied by the water treatment industry. The Environmental Protection Agency does not have any standards related to blue-green algae in public water supplies. But health officials agree that too much exposure to blue-green algae toxins can cause health problems in humans and especially pets.

Recent reports suggest that the vast biological machine that is the Pantanal Wetland in South America may be on the same trajectory of decline as suffered by the Florida Everglades.

South America’s giant Pantanal wetlands, one of the world’s most bio-diverse ecosystems, is at growing risk from intensive peripheral agricultural, industrial and urban development problems, expected to be compounded by climate change, United Nations University experts warn.

Covering more than 165,000 square kilometers, an area roughly equal to Florida in the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest freshwater wetland, of active interest to U.S. scientists for insights into the lost biodiversity of Florida’s famed Everglades, altered by drainage projects starting in the 1940s to make way for development and agriculture.

Lastly, for those interested in how Big Business corrupts both politicians and the environment, here’s an interesting essay entitled the Toxic Corporations that Run America.  If nothing else the final paragraph is right on the money:

Until we unplug from a fossil fuel economy and from a political system in which corporations are given more rights than people (and nature is denied any), then the number one [polluting company] spot on this list may change from year to year — but the real loser will be the planet and everything and everyone living on it.

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