Changing public attitudes to recycled water
In a wet Scottish August it may seem a little strange to discuss recycled water. However, severe water shortages in many parts of the world are driving the search for new ways of ensuring a clean water supply.
The technologies to produce high quality water from wastewater are improving all the time. While this could help relieve the strain on water supplies, public attitudes to the idea of using water that is recycled from sewage and other wastewater streams for drinking and domestic use is a major barrier.
Jonathan Bridge in the academic newspaper ‘The Conversation‘ argues that it is public attitudes to recycled water that needs treatment, not the water.
Public attitudes are not necessarily irrational on this point. Untreated sewage is dangerous stuff, and is still responsible for death and disease in many parts of the world. As says “Recent evidence on the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant microbes in treatment plants highlights the need for ongoing technical development to combat emerging threats to health and environment. Other concerns lie around persistent organic pollutants such as pharmaceuticals, which may be concentrated by repeated recycling of black wastewater.”
In the USA a report by the National Research Council (NRC) that reviewed current wastewater treatment technologies found that the possible health risks associated with exposure to chemical contaminants are minimal. They said, “Available technology can reduce chemical and microbial contaminants to levels comparable to or lower than those present in many current drinking water supplies.”
Water UK has also produced a useful briefing that explains how sewage is treated.
Water engineers also face the challenge of tackling real and perceived threats to water quality, mistrust of commercial utilities and government authorities, and a deep-rooted fear of contaminated water.
This is an easier sell in parts of the world where water supplies are under greatest pressure. Here environmental concerns, price incentives, fines and even national security have been used to convince people of the need to adopt wastewater recycling. Not a pressure we face in Scotland – yet!
- Posted in: Water