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Wastewater treatment plants removing only about half chemicals of emerging concern

A report done for the Great Lakes Regional Office of the International Joint Commission that regulates the Great Lakes and waterways between Canada and the United States has found that sewage treatment plants are removing only about half of the...


A report done for the Great Lakes Regional Office of the International Joint Commission that regulates the Great Lakes and waterways between Canada and the United States has found that sewage treatment plants are removing only about half of the chemicals and pharmaceuticals found in sewage. The chemicals, known as “chemicals of emerging concern,” from human waste are released in the effluent of wastewater treatment plants located around the Great Lakes. Past scientific studies have found such compounds can accumulate in fish and cause defects.

The IJC report was based on research conducted between 2009-2011 and was published in IWA Online on November 7, 2013. The authors were Antonette Arvai, Gary Klecka, Saad Jasim, Henryk Melcer and Michael T. Laitta.

Brian Bienkowski wrote about their findings in Environmental Health News on November 22.

According to Bienkowski, the IJC researchers found wastewater treatment technologies are not effectively able to remove six chemicals that are often found in the Great Lakes. The substances include a herbicide, an anti-seizure drug, two antibiotics, an antibacterial, and an anti-inflammatory drug. One of the substances found is Triclosan, which is used in soaps, toothpastes and other products.

Bienkowski writes that although the researchers expected that the pharmaceuticals would easily be diluted in the large bodies of water, the chemicals were found two miles away from sewage outfalls in Lake Michigan.

Michael Murray, a scientist with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Centre and a member of the IJC board, was quoted in Bienkowski’s article that wastewater treatment plants are often not equipped to cope with the problem: “They weren’t designed to handle these types of chemicals. And most municipalities in the Great Lakes are under tight budgets and they’re just doing what they can to meet requirements.”

Advanced technologies like ozonation are more effective at removing the troubling chemicals than traditional more basic measures.

To read the article in Environmental Health News, a non-profit media company, click here.

To read the original IJC researchers’ report published by IWA Online (subscription-based), click here.