Wastewater Regulations: Disease, Toxins, Nutrients, and Endocrine Disrupters

by Larry Losoncy, PhD

Regulation of sanitary waste began with a focus on disease-causing pathogens (germs). When medical science was able to demonstrate the connection between disease and contaminated drinking water, regulatory activity focused on protecting drinking water from germs. Thousands of people died from cholera between 1830 and 1880 before the link to contaminated drinking water was discovered. The regulations were not entirely effective however, as evidenced by the cholera epidemic of 1939 in Lexington, Kentucky that killed 1500 people in 10 days. To this day there are still occasional outbreaks of hepatitis, e-coli and dysentery from contaminated water around the country.

During the 1800’s the United States changed from a population that drew its water directly out of lakes, rivers, springs and wells to an urban population that had water piped to homes from central water treatment plants. This made protection of water sources and treatment of that water even more important. If the central plant delivered bad water an entire city could get sick and die. Health departments at state, county and municipal level created ever more detailed regulations to govern and protect the public from bad drinking water. Both water treatment and wastewater discharge became more regulated.

During the mid 1900’s a second focus emerged:  toxins in the water supply. The most visible of these were acid rain and mercury, but many more toxic chemicals and trace metals were found in America’s lakes, rivers, streams and underground water supplies. Extensive efforts were made to determine the water quality in each and every supply source. Research was also done to determine how toxic various of these pollutants could be, what levels were dangerous, and what harm they could cause to humans.

Next came the realization that nutrients are contaminating the water supply.
The problem about nutrients in water is that they promote growth of living organisms which in turn triggers an ecological chain of events that ruins the water and can create toxic conditions in rivers, wells, aquifers and lakes.

Fertilizers are a large source of these nutrients but not the only source. There are also nutrients from pig and poultry farms going into the water. This, for example, is blamed for much of the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Furthermore, these are found in all human sanitary waste. Our bodies in the process of digestion create and evacuate nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium as byproducts.

Almost half of all the homes in our nation are on septic systems. Septic systems do not typically eliminate nitrogen, phosphate or potassium. It was always assumed that a septic system properly installed in ground that percolates will put these nutrients into the ground far enough above the groundwater for them to be part of the soil without getting into groundwater. That is the reason grass grows so well where there are leech lines: these nutrients are utilized by what grows around them and above them.

Nutrients introduce into the discussion a whole new dimension, very different from the concerns about disease and toxins. Germs can be killed with treatment. Germs die quickly in the ground. Metal contaminants can be filtered out and chemical discharges can be banned from entering the water supply. But nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are not living organisms to be killed and they cannot be easily filtered. There is significant question being raised about when and where septic systems can safely be used. The issue of nutrients is a serious one for both the septic industry and wastewater treatment plants.

Enter now a fourth focus: endocrine damaging chemicals or ED’s as described in the June 4, 2007 issue of Newsweek. We can expect a great deal more information about how the accumulation of trace amounts of chemicals from shampoos, cosmetics, shaving lotions, skin creams, dishwashing liquids, pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, medicines, and other home-use products in the water supply combine to cause genetic damage.

It has been a long and sorrowful journey away from the good old days of plentiful safe water and no worries about what happened with our human waste.

We will always have plentiful water and we will find ways to make it safe again. But it won’t be cheap.

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Larry Losoncy is the president of Clean Up America, Inc. The company manufactures and markets  The Sanitizer™ non-discharge, evaporative toilet.  To learn more about The Sanitizer™ please go to http://www.cuaproducts.com.