On our earth, only about 3% of the water is fresh and suitable for drinking. This makes it all the more significant that nearly 70% of the world’s industrial waste ends up being dumped into our water supply. The United States has some of the world’s most stringent regulations for industries and their environmental impact, and yet over 80% of America’s most hazardous waste sites have had an impact on the quality of ground water nearby. Since our groundwater supplies drinking water to over half the nation, and over 95% of America’s freshwater resources are from groundwater, it is crucial that dirty water treatment and environmental remediation services develop in concert with other technologies to ensure the safety of this essential resource and minimize groundwater contamination. Thankfully, there are promising advances in address polluted water on the horizon. Here are four of them.
- Low-pressure membranes Low-pressure membranes are some of the promising technologies when it comes to dirty water treatment. The first low-pressure membrane filtration systems entered development in the 1980s, and by the end of that decade were being used in research projects. They performed well, and significantly better than conventional filtration and chlorination systems. They provide a smaller waste stream, more automation potential, less need for chemicals, a greater reduction of pathogens, and no disinfection byproducts. The disadvantage of a low-pressure membrane system has always been that it is largely ineffective for removing dissolved organic matter. Recent improvements in technology are showing amazing promise in doing away with this disadvantage.
- Ultraviolet irritation technology Ultraviolet technology has the ability to disinfect water without creating any waste byproducts and at minimal cost. Additionally, it takes only seconds of exposure for UV light between 250 and 272 nm to completely disrupt the DNA of microorganisms and keep them from reproducing. This technology was first used in the 1950s and since then has been implemented in approximately 500 facilities for dirty water treatment. The largest such system in the world is currently located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Although the system is already in use, more research is needed, particularly on the ability of UV irritation to destroy the cysts of Giardia lamblia. The newest technology in this field is the pulsed UV wave. Energy is stored up and then released to a lamp in one short, high-intensity burst. Experiments are showing that this single high energy pulse is more effective against microorganisms then lower energy extended exposure.
- Advanced oxidation technology This type of dirty water treatment was first proposed in 1987. The process uses hydroxyl radicals to oxidize organic and inorganic impurities within the water. This can be done using ozone, ozone with hydrogen peroxide, or with hydrogen peroxide and UV irritation. This treatment is particularly useful in destroying taste and odor-causing compounds. Ozone is currently not a particularly cost-effective solution to dirty water treatment needs, and the hydrogen peroxide addition needs more innovation to improve efficiency. UV irritation with hydrogen peroxide is the most promising type of treatment.
- Biological filtration While other forms of dirty water treatment are chemical or physical processes, biological filtration is quite different. In the past, there has been concern about adding any sort of microorganisms to water, which is essentially what happens with biological filtration. These concerns have been dealt with and today biological filtration is showing promise is one of the most effective forms of dirty water treatment going forward. At the same time, questions remain about exactly how to implement the operation of biological filtration and how to remove biodegradable organic matter once it has done its job. In addition, some forms of biological filtration are not particularly effective in cold climates or when treating cold water. Advances and developments in this field of dirty water treatment, however, are just around the corner, and tremendous research and engineering power is going into making biological filtration reality.
The water industry has historically adapted new technologies only very slowly, out of concern for safety. This is one reason that dirty water treatment technologies do not advance at the same speed as other sorts of technology. Thankfully the future is bright for waste water treatment development.