Technology and Engineering: Sanitary and Storm Water Treatment: Increased Education Has Shown Treating Sanitary Water Only Partially Resolves Potential Pollution Issues

By Roberts, Amanda S. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Technology and Engineering: Sanitary and Storm Water Treatment: Increased Education Has Shown Treating Sanitary Water Only Partially Resolves Potential Pollution Issues


Roberts, Amanda S., Technology and Engineering Teacher


It was the evening of January 12, 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Haiti in over a century. While the initial destruction was overwhelming, subsequent devastation compounded further misery for the poorest nation in the western hemisphere (CNN World, 2010). It was evident that, with no ability to properly eliminate human waste and limited access to clean water, it would be extremely difficult to prevent disease. This was one of the initial fears of aid groups arriving to help the Haitians. The potential of an epidemic due to the lack of appropriate sanitation for those left homeless, living in makeshift camps, seemed inevitable. This fear became a reality in October 2010 with a cholera outbreak. Cholera is a "waterborne bacterial infection spread through contaminated water" (NY Daily News, 2010c, para. 8). The effects of cholera are severe diarrhea and vomiting, which result in dehydration and potential death within a few hours (NY Daily News, 2010 c). While treatable with rehydration, the obvious cure is prevention through cleanliness.

Many developing nations suffer from such catastrophes. Pakistan is no exception. Following severe flooding during the summer of 2010, cholera surfaced, adding to the turmoil of more than 20 million people (NY Daily News, 2010 b). However, the United States was able to prevent such an epidemic when Hurricane Katrina bombarded the southern coastal states of Louisiana and Mississippi. According to health experts, this was in part due to the sewer and water purification systems as well as the availability of bottled water (NY Daily News, 2010 a).

Creating and sustaining a viable sanitary sewer system is without a doubt one of the most essential components to the development of a healthy community. The survival of the inhabitants depends on the proper elimination of human waste and water purification. However, increased education has shown treating sanitary water only partially resolves potential pollution issues. Over the past two decades, it has been determined that proper treatment of storm water is also essential if we are to alleviate pollution that contaminates our waterways. But what is the best method for accomplishing this task? How can our rivers, bays, and oceans be restored to tolerable levels of pollution? Through design, legislation, and innovation, ultimately pollution will be resolved. Sanitary sewer systems and storm water systems will be repaired and restored, water treatment policies will be enforced to ensure that the number of pollutants in our waterways is significantly reduced, and environmentally friendly filtration methods will be created.

Design of Sanitary and Storm Water Sewer Systems

Until the mid-19th century, urban sewer systems functioned as appendages of rivers and streams. Towns and cities developed around waterways, which provided a natural means for removing waste. Consequently, little attention was given to sanitary sewer systems. However, as the populations increased, pollution became a factor. Yet, there was little that could be done to repair a system that had been developed by faulty methods. As in the case of London and its surrounding parishes, there was a lack of central authority, which made it impossible to conduct a systematic study of the sewage works. Parishes were located at different elevations. To unite them through a common sewer line was impossible. Furthermore, some sewers were laid higher than the cesspools they were intended to drain. In other cases, larger sewers were being deposited into smaller sewers (Metcalf & Eddy, 1914). John Phillips, the first engineer to make a comprehensive study of the metropolitan sewer system of London in 1847 described it this way:

There are hundreds, I may say thousands, of houses in this metropolis which have no drainage whatever, and the greater part of them have stinking, overflowing cesspools. …

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