FROM SEWAGE TO TAP WATER

2012-11-12 10:55

Many municipalities in South Africa are planning to purify and recycle sewage water into drinking/ quality tap water.

According to news reports residents could be drinking recycled sewage water in a few years if a feasibility study on waste water reclamation proves viable. This extreme measure is needed as many municipalities are running short of reliable water supplies. The idea to recycle sewage water into drinking water is absolutely stomach-churning and requires intensive study, research and public input.

Besides the “yuck aspect” associated with recycled sewage water there are other serious concerns with such a proposal.

Sewage and other types of waste water carries large amounts of microorganisms, germs, viruses, other harmful bacteria and EDCs which are known as endocrine disrupting compounds. Purifying sewage or waste water will always carry the risk of human miscalculation and error. A small mistake or negligence in the costly process can cause an entire community to be hospitalised.

Many health experts, toxicologists and water experts are concerned about EDCs. EDCs are generally found in sewage waste, pesticides, pharmaceutical and personal care products like cosmetics and plastic. When these toxins are ingested into the system they can cause learning disabilities, cancerous tumors, reproductive defects, and other hormonal disorders.

To quote Leon Earl Gray, a senior toxicologist from the United States: “It is now widely accepted that exposure to EDCs during critical stages of development can induce latent adverse effects and that organisms are uniquely susceptible to EDCs during development”.

Although there is a lack of scientific consensus as to whether adverse effects observed in wildlife and humans are due to EDCs exposures, many EDC scientific research reports have concluded that EDCs can cause adverse biological effects in animals and human beings and require further wide range research and effective monitoring.

To quote: “In some examples there is sufficient evidence for endocrine-mediated effects to warrant concerns. (WHO- IPCS GLOBAL ASSESSMENT OF EDCs).

Will wastewater treatment process completely remove EDCs? Do we have the necessary skills, finance and competent personal to run an effective monitoring system and such a sophisticated operating process? Will the quality and required standard of treated water be maintained?

To quote Lindiwe Hendricks, former water affairs and forestry department minister: “Skills shortages in the country were one of the challenges... “Not only skills at the higher levels of university-trained engineers and scientists but at all levels throughout the water and sanitation value chain”. (News24: “Concerns over SA sewage water”, September 11, 2008).

Although recycled sewage water is considered drinkable and used in some countries like Namibia and Singapore, the controversial and expensive process requires careful expert opinion. Experts like engineers, pharmacologists, biologists and other skilled laboratory personal need to broadly evaluate and study this process of purifying sewage water. Besides the sustainability and financial aspect of the process other important issues like impact on the environment and human health needs to be carefully examined.

I believe that treated waste water should be used by non- food industries, for irrigation and non-drinking purposes such as fire hydrants and watering the garden.

Granted South Africa has not been blessed with a natural abundance of water, and recycling projects and programmes will eventually have to be put in place, but water for human consumption has to be non- recycled water.

Every effort should go to into research on how best to get purified nature’s water to the nation at large solely for their consumption and for every other use recycled water would suffice.

Where will South Africa and the rest of the World get its water from in the future years? The water challenge is already chronic and could get worse.

If we are concerned about our natural resources and the environment, we need to reduce our water consumption and become more eco-friendly in our lifestyle.

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