Only decades ago, people could not swim carefree in lakes and rivers. Wastewaters in the form of municipal, commercial and industrial water were being dumped mostly untreated into the natural water bodies, heavily polluting them.
With the upgrading of municipal sewer systems, wastewater treatment plants and other wastewater disposal constructions, the wastewater and freshwater situation in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is very different today. Currently, more than 95 % of residents in these regions are connected to a treatment plant. The quality of swimming in natural water bodies has thus improved appreciably.
The removal of faecal matter from residential areas and its proper treatment are key contributors to hygiene within settled areas and for the general protection of waters. Careful separation of wastewater and drinking water must be guaranteed so that no pathogens can get into the drinking water and contaminate it.
While water quality has already greatly improved, there is still room for further improvement. Currently, our main challenges are micropollution, medicines, plant protection products, chemicals and hormones. We still have no convincing way of removing these from the wastewater and so they find their way into the environment. Thus, for good reason, funding is being put into researching new concepts for chemical-physical separation methods, and even the recovery of ingredients out of wastewaters.
Read more about the functionality of wastewater treatment plants in our chemworld issue 2019.