Years ago, our laundry detergent had other uses beyond just cleaning laundry. If you had an oil spill in a driveway, for example, you could pour a little Tide and water on it and then come out an hour later and rinse everything away, including the oil. Likewise, if you’ve ever painted a house and you’ve used TSP, trisodium phosphate, you know what an incredible cleaner it is.
But these days, things are different. Our detergents today don’t use phosphate at all (they use enzymes instead), and TSP is no longer a base for all our cleaners. Why? Because once we realized the health hazard these chemicals posed to our water supply, some things had to change.
What is phosphorus and how does it affect water systems?
Phosphorus is a nutrient that increases plant growth; it’s great for food crops, but it’s not great for aquatic systems because it enhances the growth of plants over the growth of other wildlife—eutrophication. One of the most significant consequences of eutrophication is the growth of algal blooms (cyanobacteria), some of which produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals.
How do wastewater treatment plants take in phosphorus?
So how does phosphorus get into our water systems in the first place? Water gets into lakes from storm drains, lawn fertilizers, agriculture, rain, and animals, and wastewater discharges that aren’t done properly; all of these sources increase eutrophication.
Although most communities are relatively careful to avoid adding more phosphates to the water supply, and even though we haven’t used them in our detergents for years and years, rain keeps them in our water supply, which perpetuates the problem.
How is wastewater discharge regulated?
Some new regulations have recently come out on how much phosphorus can be returned to the environment. As of now, these regulations are done at the state level; most states have already begun (or will soon begin) to regulate phosphorus levels. The rule in Colorado, for example, is that phosphorus levels must be down to almost one part per million.
How can water be improved? Can phosphorus be removed?
Phosphorus removal is something that nearly all wastewater plants struggle with, even facilities that are designed to do so. But while it may be a difficult problem, it’s not unsolvable.
Water can be improved either biologically or chemically. At ATS, we specialize in chemical solutions that help fight phosphorus in your water, to help you get the levels down and meet regulations.
We’ll talk more about these regulations and how to meet them in our next blog post. In the meantime, give us a call with any questions about this or any water issue. We’d love to help.