Effluent (Wastewater Treatment)

The major aim of wastewater treatment is to remove as much of the suspended solids as possible before the remaining water, called effluent, is discharged back to the environment. As solid material decays, it uses up oxygen, which is needed by the plants and animals living in the water.

Sewage is created by residences, institutions, hospitals and commercial and industrial establishments. It can be treated close to where it is created (in septic tanks, biofilters or aerobic treatment systems), or collected and transported via a network of pipes and pump stations to a municipal treatment plant (see sewerage and pipes and infrastructure). Sewage collection and treatment is typically subject to local, state and federal regulations and standards. Industrial sources of wastewater often require specialized treatment processes.

Wastewater treatment includes physical, chemical and biological processes to remove physical, chemical and biological contaminants. Its objective is to produce a waste stream (or treated effluent) and a solid waste or sludge suitable for discharge or reuse back into the environment. This material is often inadvertently contaminated with many toxic organic and inorganic compounds.

The sewage treatment involves three stages, called primary, secondary and tertiary treatment. First, the solids are separated from the wastewater stream. Then dissolved biological matter is progressively converted into a solid mass by using indigenous, water-borne micro-organisms. Finally, the biological solids are neutralized then disposed of or re-used, and the treated water may be disinfected chemically or physically (for example by lagoons and micro-filtration). The final effluent can be discharged into a stream, river, bay, lagoon or wetland, or it can be used for the irrigation of a golf course, green way or park. If it is sufficiently clean, it can also be used for groundwater recharge or agricultural purposes.