Wastewater treatment broadly describes water treatment preparing water no longer needed or suitable for its most recent use for return to the water cycle with minimal environmental issues. Wastewater treatment is distinguished from water treatment by a general focus on disposal rather than use, although reuse is also possible, called water reclamation. Water reclamation implies avoidance of disposal by use of treated wastewater for various purposes. Treatment means removing impurities from water being treated; and some methods of treatment are applicable to both water and wastewater. Production of waste brine, however, may discourage wastewater treatment removing dissolved inorganic solids from water by methods like ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and distillation.
Although disposal occurs after treatment, it must be considered first. Since disposal is the objective of wastewater treatment, disposal options are the basis for treatment decisions. Acceptable impurity concentrations may vary with the location of disposal. Transportation costs often make acceptable impurity concentrations dependent upon location of disposal, but expensive treatment requirements may encourage selection of a disposal location on the basis of impurity concentrations. Ocean disposal is subject to international treaty requirements. International treaties may also regulate disposal into rivers crossing international borders. Water bodies entirely within the jurisdiction of a single nation may be subject to regulations of multiple local governments. Acceptable impurity concentrations may vary widely among different juridictions for disposal of wastewater to evaporation ponds, infiltration basins, or injection wells.
Phase separation transfers impurities into a non-aqueous phase. Phase separation may occur at intermediate points in a treatment sequence to remove solids generated during oxidation or polishing. Grease and oil may be recovered for fuel or saponification. Solids often require dewatering of sludge in a wastewater treatment plant. Disposal options for dried solids vary with the type and concentration of impurities removed from water.
Solids and non-polar liquids may be removed from wastewater by gravity when density differences are sufficient to overcome dispersion by turbulence. Gravity separation of solids is the primary treatment of sewage and is widely used with other wastewaters. Heavy solids will accumulate on the bottom of quiescent settling basins or more complex clarifiers with skimmers to simultaneously remove floating grease like soap scum and solids like feathers or wood chips. Containers like the API oil-water separator are specifically designed to separate non-polar liquids.
Colloidal suspensions of fine solids may be removed by filtration through fine physical barriers distinguished from coarser screens or sieves by the ability to remove particles smaller than the openings through which the water passes. Other types of water filters remove impurities by chemical or biological processes described below.
Oxidation reduces the biochemical oxygen demand of wastewater, and may reduce the toxicity of some impurities. Secondary treatment converts some impurities to carbon dioxide, water, and biosolids. Chemical oxidation is widely used for disinfection.
Secondary treatment by biochemical oxidation of dissolved and colloidal organic compounds is widely used in sewage treatment and is applicable to some agricultural and industrial wastewaters. Biological oxidation will preferentially remove organic compounds useful as a food supply for the treatment ecosystem. Concentration of some less digestable compounds may be reduced by cometabolism. Removal efficiency is limited by the minimum food concentration required to sustain the treatment ecosystem.
Chemical oxidation may remove some persistent organic pollutants and concentrations remaining after biochemical oxidation. Disinfection by chemical oxidation kills bacteria and microbial pathogens by adding ozone, chlorine or hypochlorite to wastewater.
Polishing refers to treatments made following the above methods. These treatments may also be used independently for some industrial wastewater. Chemical reduction or pH adjustment minimizes chemical reactivity of wastewater following chemical oxidation. Carbon filtering removes remaining contaminants and impurities by chemical absorption onto activated carbon.
- Wastewater treatment plant
- Sewage treatment
- Industrial wastewater treatment
- Agricultural wastewater treatment
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