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United States Office of Water EPA 832-R-04-001

Environmental Protection Office of Wastewater Management September 2004

Agency Washington DC 20460

Primer for Municipal

Wastewater Treatment
Primer for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems
Clean Water Act Requirements for Wastewater Treatment 4

The Need for Wastewater Treatment 5

Effects of Wastewater on Water Quality 5

Some of the Key Challenges Faced by Wastewater Treatment Professionals Today 6

Collecting and Treating Wastewater 6

Centralized Collection 6
Combined Sewer Systems 7
Sanitary Sewer System 9
Pollutants: 8
Oxygen-Demanding Substances 8
Pathogens 8
Nutrients 8
Synthetic Organic and Inorganic Chemicals 8
Thermal 8

Wastewater Treatment 9
Primary Treatment 9
Preliminary Treatment 9
Primary Sedimentation 11
Basic Wastewater Treatment Processes 10
Physical 10
Biological 10
Chemical 10
Secondary Treatment 11
Attached Growth Processes 11
Suspended Growth Processes 12
Lagoons 13
Land Treatment 14
Slow Rate Infiltration 14
Rapid Infiltration 15
Overland Flow 15
Constructed Wetlands 15
Disinfection 16
Chlorine 16
Ozone 16
Ultraviolet Radiation 16

Pretreatment 16

Advanced Methods of Wastewater Treatment 17

Nitrogen Control 17
Biological Phosphorus Control 18
Coagulation-Sedimentation 18
Carbon Adsorption 19

The Use or Disposal of Wastewater Residuals and Biosolids 19

Land Application 20
Incineration 20
Beneficial Use Products from Biosolids 21

Decentralized (Onsite or Cluster) Systems 21

Treatment 22
Conventional Septic Tanks 22
Aerobic Treatment Units 22
Media Filters 22
Dispersal Approaches 23
Absorption Field 23
Mound System 23
Drip Dispersal System 24
Evapotranspiration Beds 24
Management of Onsite/Decentralized Wastewater Systems 24

Asset Management 24
Operation 25
Maintenance 25

Common Wastewater Treatment Terminology 25

Clean Water Act Requirements for
Wastewater Treatment

The 1972 Amendments to the Federal

Water Pollution Control Act (Public Law 92-
500–, known as the Clean Water Act (CWA),
established the foundation for wastewater
discharge control in this country. The CWA’s
primary objective is to ‘restore and maintain the
chemical, physical and biological integrity of the
nation’s waters.’

The CWA established a control program for

ensuring that communities have clean water
by regulating the release of contaminants
into our country’s waterways. Permits that
limit the amount of pollutants discharged
are required of all municipal and industrial
wastewater dischargers under the National
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
permit program. In addition, a construction
grants program was set up to assist publicly-
owned wastewater treatment works build the
improvements required to meet these new limits.
The 1987 Amendments to the CWA established
State Revolving Funds (SRF) to replace grants as
the current principal federal funding source for
the construction of wastewater treatment and
collection systems.

Over 75 percent of the nation’s population is

served by centralized wastewater collection
and treatment systems. The remaining
population uses septic or other onsite systems.
Approximately 16,000 municipal wastewater
treatment facilities are in operation nationwide.
The CWA requires that municipal wastewater
treatment plant discharges meet a minimum of
‘secondary treatment’. Over 30 percent of the
wastewater treatment facilities today produce
cleaner discharges by providing even greater
levels of treatment than secondary.

Primer for Municipal
Wastewater Treatment
The Need for Wastewa- produced can greatly alter people to use the water for
ter Treatment the amount and complexity beneficial purposes. Past
Wastewater treatment is of industrial wastes and approaches used to control
needed so that we can challenge traditional water pollution control must
use our rivers and streams treatment technology. The be modified to accommodate
for fishing, swimming and application of commercial current and emerging issues
drinking water. For the first fertilizers and pesticides,
Effects of Wastewater on
half of the 20th century, combined with sediment
Water Quality
pollution in the Nation’s from growing development
urban waterways resulted in The basic function of the
activities, continues to be a
frequent occurrences of low source of significant pollution wastewater treatment plant
dissolved oxygen, fish kills, as runoff washes off the is to speed up the natural
algal blooms and bacterial land. processes by which water
contamination. Early efforts Water pollution issues now purifies itself. In earlier
in water pollution control dominate public concerns years, the natural treatment
prevented human waste about national water quality process in streams and
from reaching water supplies and maintaining healthy lakes was adequate to
or reduced floating debris ecosystems. Although a perform basic wastewater
that obstructed shipping. large investment in water treatment. As our population
Pollution problems and their pollution control has helped and industry grew to their
control were primarily local, reduce the problem, many present size, increased
not national, concerns. miles of streams are still levels of treatment prior
Since then, population impacted by a variety of to discharging domestic
and industrial growth have different pollutants. This, wastewater became
increased demands on our in turn, affects the ability of necessary.
natural resources, altering
the situation dramatically.
Progress in abating pollution
has barely kept ahead of
population growth, changes
in industrial processes,
technological developments,
changes in land use,
business innovations,
and many other factors.
Increases in both the
quantity and variety of goods

(Data form U.S. Public Health Service multi wastewater inventories:
2000 USEPA Clean Watershed Needs Survey)

Collecting and Treating

Population Receiving Different Levels of
The most common form
Wastewater Treatment
of pollution control in the
United States consists of
200 a system of sewers and
180 wastewater treatment plants.
Population Served (millions)

160 2 The sewers collect municipal

No Discharge
140 Greater than wastewater from homes,
120 businesses, and industries
100 and deliver it to facilities
Less than
80 Secondary
1 for treatment before it is
Raw Discharge
60 discharged to water bodies
40 or land, or reused.
0 Centralized Collection
During the early days of our
Before the CWA
nation’s history, people living
After the CWA
in both the cities and the
Raw discharges were eliminated by 1996 countryside used cesspools
Data for the "no-discharge" category were unavailable for 1968 and privies to dispose of
domestic wastewater. Cities
began to install wastewater
Some of the key challenges faced by wastewater collection systems in the late
treatment professionals today: nineteenth century because
of an increasing awareness
 Many of the wastewater treatment and collection facilities
are now old and worn, and require further improvement, of waterborne disease and
repair or replacement to maintain their useful life; the popularity of indoor
plumbing and flush toilets.
 The character and quantity of contaminants presenting
problems today are far more complex than those that pre- The use of sewage collection
sented challenges in the past; systems brought dramatic
improvements to public
 Population growth is taxing many existing wastewater
treatment systems and creating a need for new plants; health, further encouraging
the growth of metropolitan
 Farm runoff and increasing urbanization provide ad-
areas. In the year 2000
ditional sources of pollution not controlled by wastewater
treatment; and approximately 208 million
people in the U.S. were
 One third of new development is served by decentralized served by centralized
systems (e.g., septic systems) as population migrates further
collection systems.
from metropolitan areas.

Combined Sewer Systems
Many of the earliest sewer systems were combined sewers, designed to collect both sanitary
wastewater and storm water runoff in a single system. These combined sewer systems were
designed to provide storm drainage from streets and roofs to prevent flooding in cities.
Later, lines were added to carry domestic wastewater away from homes and businesses.
Early sanitarians thought that these combined systems provided adequate health protection.
We now know that the overflows designed to release excess flow during rains also release
pathogens and other pollutants.
Simplified Urban Water Cycle

Oxygen-Demanding Substances
Dissolved oxygen is a key element in water quality that is necessary to support aquatic life.
A demand is placed on the natural supply of dissolved oxygen by many pollutants in waste-
water. This is called biochemical oxygen demand, or BOD, and is used to measure how well
a sewage treatment plant is working. If the effluent, the treated wastewater produced by a
treatment plant, has a high content of organic pollutants or ammonia, it will demand more
oxygen from the water and leave the water with less oxygen to support fish and other aquatic
Organic matter and ammonia are “oxygen-demanding” substances. Oxygen-demand-
ing substances are contributed by domestic sewage and agricultural and industrial wastes
of both plant and animal origin, such as those from food processing, paper mills, tanning,
and other manufacturing processes. These substances are usually destroyed or converted
to other compounds by bacteria if there is sufficient oxygen present in the water, but the dis-
solved oxygen needed to sustain fish life is used up in this break down process.

Disinfection of wastewater and chlorination of drinking water supplies has reduced the oc-
currence of waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery, which remain
problems in underdeveloped countries while they have been virtually eliminated in the U.S.
Infectious micro-organisms, or pathogens, may be carried into surface and groundwater by
sewage from cities and institutions, by certain kinds of industrial wastes, such as tanning and
meat packing plants, and by the contamination of storm runoff with animal wastes from pets,
livestock and wild animals, such as geese or deer. Humans may come in contact with these
pathogens either by drinking contaminated water or through swimming, fishing, or other
contact activities. Modern disinfection techniques have greatly reduced the danger of water-
borne disease.

Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are essential to living organisms and are the chief nutri-
ents present in natural water. Large amounts of these nutrients are also present in sewage,
certain industrial wastes, and drainage from fertilized land. Conventional secondary bio-
logical treatment processes do not remove the phosphorus and nitrogen to any substantial
extent -- in fact, they may convert the organic forms of these substances into mineral form,
making them more usable by plant life. When an excess of these nutrients overstimulates the
growth of water plants, the result causes unsightly conditions, interferes with drinking water
treatment processes, and causes unpleasant and disagreeable tastes and odors in drinking
water. The release of large amounts of nutrients, primarily phosphorus but occasionally ni-
trogen, causes nutrient enrichment which results in excessive growth of algae. Uncontrolled
algae growth blocks out sunlight and chokes aquatic plants and animals by depleting dis-
solved oxygen in the water at night. The release of nutrients in quantities that exceed the
affected waterbody’s ability to assimilate them results in a condition called eutrophication or
cultural enrichment.

Inorganic and Synthetic Organic Chemicals

A vast array of chemicals are included in this category. Examples include detergents, house-
hold cleaning aids, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, synthetic organic pesticides and her-
bicides, industrial chemicals, and the wastes from their manufacture. Many of these sub-
stances are toxic to fish and aquatic life and many are harmful to humans. Some are known
to be highly poisonous at very low concentrations. Others can cause taste and odor prob-
lems, and many are not effectively removed by conventional wastewater treatment.

Heat reduces the capacity of water to retain oxygen. In some areas, water used for cooling
is discharged to streams at elevated temperatures from power plants and industries. Even
discharges from wastewater treatment plants and storm water retention ponds affected by
summer heat can be released at temperatures above that of the receiving water, and elevate
the stream temperature. Unchecked discharges of waste heat can seriously alter the ecology
of a lake, a stream, or estuary.

Wastewater Treatment Preliminary Treatment
In 1892, only 27 American As wastewater enters a
cities provided wastewater treatment facility, it typically
treatment. Today, more flows through a step called
than 16,000 publicly-owned preliminary treatment. A
wastewater treatment plants screen removes large floating
operate in the United States objects, such as rags, cans,
and its territories. The
bottles and sticks that may
construction of wastewater
clog pumps, small pipes, and
treatment facilities
Workers install sewer line down stream processes. The
blossomed in the 1920s and
Sanitary Sewer Systems screens vary from coarse to
again after the passage of
fine and are constructed with
Sanitary sewer collection the CWA in 1972 with the
parallel steel or iron bars
systems serve over half the availability of grant funding
with openings of about half
people in the United States and new requirements
calling for minimum levels an inch, while others may
today. EPA estimates that
of treatment. Adequate be made from mesh screens
there are approximately
treatment of wastewater, with much smaller openings.
500,000 miles of publicly-
along with the ability to
owned sanitary sewers
provide a sufficient supply Screens are generally placed
with a similar expanse of
of clean water, has become in a chamber or channel and
privately-owned sewer
a major concern for many inclined towards the flow of
systems. Sanitary sewers
communities. the wastewater. The inclined
were designed and built
screen allows debris to be
to carry wastewater from Primary Treatment caught on the upstream
domestic, industrial and The initial stage in the surface of the screen, and
commercial sources, but treatment of domestic allows access for manual
not to carry storm water. wastewater is known as
or mechanical cleaning.
Nonetheless, some storm primary treatment. Coarse
Some plants use devices
water enters sanitary sewers solids are removed from
known as comminutors or
“the ability to
through cracks, particularly the wastewater in the
barminutors which combine
primary stage of treatment. provide a sufficient
in older lines, and through the functions of a screen and
In some treatment plants,
roof and basement drains. a grinder. These devices supply of clean
primary and secondary
Due to the much smaller catch and then cut or shred
stages may be combined
volumes of wastewater the heavy solid and floating water continues to
into one basic operation.
that pass through sanitary material. In the process, the
At many wastewater be a major national
sewer lines compared to treatment facilities, influent pulverized matter remains
combined sewers, sanitary passes through preliminary in the wastewater flow to be concern”
sewer systems use smaller treatment units before removed later in a primary
pipes and lower the cost of primary and secondary settling tank.
collecting wastewater. treatment begins.

Basic Wastewater Treatment Processes
Physical Biological Chemical
Physical processes were In nature, bacteria and Chemicals can be used to
some of the earliest methods other small organisms in create changes in pollutants
to remove solids from water consume organic that increase the removal
wastewater, usually by matter in sewage, turning of these new forms by
passing wastewater through it into new bacterial cells, physical processes. Simple
screens to remove debris carbon dioxide, and other chemicals such as alum,
and solids. In addition, by-products. The bacteria lime or iron salts can be
solids that are heavier than normally present in water added to wastewater to
water will settle out from must have oxygen to do cause certain pollutants,
wastewater by gravity. their part in breaking down such as phosphorus, to floc
Particles with entrapped the sewage. In the 1920s, or bunch together into large,
air float to the top of water scientists observed that these heavier masses which can
and can also be removed. natural processes could be be removed faster through
These physical processes are contained and accelerated physical processes. Over the
employed in many modern in systems to remove organic past 30 years, the chemical
wastewater treatment material from wastewater. industry has developed
facilities today. With the addition of oxygen synthetic inert chemicals
to wastewater, masses of know as polymers to
microorganisms grew and further improve the physical
rapidly metabolized organic separation step in wastewater
pollutants. Any excess treatment. Polymers are
microbiological growth often used at the later
could be removed from stages of treatment to
the wastewater by physical improve the settling of excess
processes. microbiological growth or

After the wastewater has of grit and sand entering a any additional material that
been screened, it may flow treatment plant can cause might damage equipment or
into a grit chamber where serious operating problems, interfere with later processes.
sand, grit, cinders, and small such as excessive wear of The grit and screenings
stones settle to the bottom. pumps and other equipment, removed by these processes
Removing the grit and gravel clogging of aeration devices, must be periodically
that washes off streets or or taking up capacity in tanks collected and trucked to a
land during storms is very that is needed for treatment. landfill for disposal or are
important, especially in In some plants, another incinerated.
cities with combined sewer finer screen is placed after .
systems. Large amounts the grit chamber to remove

secondary treatment are
attached growth processes
and suspended growth
Primary Sedimentation Secondary Treatment
Attached Growth
With the screening After the wastewater has Processes
completed and the grit been through Primary In attached growth (or fixed
removed, wastewater still Treatment processes, it film) processes, the microbial
contains dissolved organic flows into the next stage of growth occurs on the surface
and inorganic constituents treatment called secondary. of stone or plastic media.
along with suspended Secondary treatment Wastewater passes over
solids. The suspended solids processes can remove up to the media along with air to Solids removed from
automated bar screens
consist of minute particles of 90 percent of the organic
matter that can be removed matter in wastewater by
from the wastewater using biological treatment
with further treatment processes. The two most
such as sedimentation or common conventional
gravity settling, chemical methods used to achieve

coagulation, or filtration.
Pollutants that are dissolved
or are very fine and remain
suspended in the wastewater
are not removed effectively
by gravity settling.

When the wastewater enters

a sedimentation tank, it slows
down and the suspended
solids gradually sink to the
bottom. This mass of solids
is called primary sludge.
Various methods have been
devised to remove primary
sludge from the tanks.
Newer plants have some type
of mechanical equipment
to remove the settled solids
from sedimentation tanks.
Some plants remove solids
continuously while others do
so at intervals. Aerated Grit Chamber

media bed material. New Suspended Growth
facilities may use beds made Processes
of plastic balls, interlocking Similar to the microbial
sheets of corrugated plastic, processes in attached growth
or other types of synthetic systems, suspended growth
media. This type of bed processes are designed
material often provides to remove biodegradable
more surface area and organic material and
a better environment for organic nitrogen-containing
promoting and controlling material by converting
Sequencing Batch biological treatment than ammonia nitrogen to
provide oxygen. Attached
rock. Bacteria, algae, fungi nitrate unless additional
growth process units include
and other microorganisms treatment is provided. In
trickling filters, biotowers,
grow and multiply, forming suspended growth processes,
and rotating biological
a microbial growth or slime the microbial growth is
contactors. Attached growth suspended in an aerated
layer (biomass) on the
processes are effective at water mixture where the air
media. In the treatment
removing biodegradable is pumped in, or the water is
process, the bacteria use
organic material from the oxygen from the air and agitated sufficiently to allow
wastewater. consume most of the organic oxygen transfer. Suspended
matter in the wastewater as growth process units include
A trickling filter is simply food. As the wastewater variations of activated
a bed of media (typically passes down through the sludge, oxidation ditches and
rocks or plastic) through media, oxygen-demanding sequencing batch reactors.
which the wastewater passes. substances are consumed by
The media ranges from the biomass and the water The suspended growth
three to six feet deep and leaving the media is much process speeds up the work
allows large numbers of cleaner. However, portions of aerobic bacteria and
microorganisms to attach of the biomass also slough other microorganisms that
and grow. Older treatment off the media and must settle break down the organic
facilities typically used out in a secondary treatment matter in the sewage by
stones, rocks, or slag as the tank. providing a rich aerobic
environment where the
microorganisms suspended
in the wastewater can work
more efficiently. In the
aeration tank, wastewater is
vigorously mixed with air and
microorganisms acclimated
to the wastewater in a
suspension for several hours.
This allows the bacteria
Trickling Filters
Brush Aerators in an Oxidation Ditch

Centerfeed well of a clarifier for

removing excess biomass

of mechanical aeration and

forced aeration can also be
used. Also, relatively pure
oxygen, produced by several
different manufacturing
processes, can be added
to provide oxygen to the
aeration tanks.

and other microorganisms to run the aeration system. From the aeration tank,
to break down the organic The effectiveness of the the treated wastewater
matter in the wastewater. activated sludge process flows to a sedimentation
The microorganisms grow can be impacted by elevated tank (secondary clarifier),
in number and the excess levels of toxic compounds in where the excess biomass
biomass is removed by wastewater unless complex is removed. Some of the
settling before the effluent industrial chemicals are biomass is recycled to the
is discharged or treated effectively controlled through head end of the aeration
further. Now activated an industrial pretreatment tank, while the remainder is
with millions of additional program. “wasted” from the system.
aerobic bacteria, some of The waste biomass and
the biomass can be used An adequate supply of settled solids are treated
again by returning it to an oxygen is necessary for the before disposal or reuse as
aeration tank for mixing with activated sludge process to biosolids.
incoming wastewater. be effective. The oxygen
is generally supplied by
A wastewater lagoon
The activated sludge mixing air with the sewage
or treatment pond is a
process, like most other and biologically active
scientifically constructed
techniques, has advantages solids in the aeration
pond, three to five feet
and limitations. The units tanks by one or more of
deep, that allows sunlight,
necessary for this treatment several different methods.
are relatively small, requiring Mechanical aeration can be
less space than attached accomplished by drawing
growth processes. In the sewage up from the
addition, when properly bottom of the tank and
operated and maintained, spraying it over the surface,
the process is generally thus allowing the sewage
free of flies and odors. to absorb large amounts of
However, most activated oxygen from the atmosphere.
sludge processes are more Pressurized air can be forced
costly to operate than out through small openings
attached growth processes in pipes suspended in the
due to higher energy use wastewater. Combination

Wastewater Lagoon

Land Treatment Slow Rate Infiltration

Land treatment is the In the case of slow rate
controlled application of infiltration, the wastewater
wastewater to the soil where is applied to the land and
physical, chemical, and moves through the soil
biological processes treat where the natural filtering
algae, bacteria, and oxygen
the wastewater as it passes action of the soil along
to interact. Biological and
across or through the soil. with microbial activity and
physical treatment processes
The principal types of land plant uptake removes most
occur in the lagoon to
treatment are slow rate, contaminants. Part of the
improve water quality. The
overland flow, and rapid water evaporates or is used
quality of water leaving the
infiltration. In the arid by plants. The remainder is
lagoon, when constructed
western states, pretreated either collected via drains or
and operated properly, is
municipal wastewater has wells for surface discharge or
considered equivalent to the
been used for many years allowed to percolate into the
effluent from a conventional
to irrigate crops. In more groundwater.
secondary treatment system.
recent years, land treatment
However, winters in cold
has spread to all sections of Slow rate infiltration is
climates have a significant
the country. Land treatment the most commonly used
impact on the effectiveness
of many types of industrial land treatment technique.
of lagoons, and winter
wastewater is also common. The wastewater, which is
storage is usually required.
sometimes disinfected before
Whatever method is application, depending on
Lagoons have several used, land treatment can the end use of the crop and
advantages when used be a feasible economic the irrigation method, can
correctly. They can be used alternative, where the land be applied to the land by
for secondary treatment area needed is readily spraying, flooding, or ridge
or as a supplement to available, particularly
and furrow irrigation. The
other processes. While when compared to costly
method selected depends on
treatment ponds require advanced treatment plants.
cost considerations, terrain,
substantial land area and Extensive research has been
and the type of crops. Much
are predominantly used conducted at land treatment
of the water and most of the
by smaller communities, sites to determine treatment
they account for more nutrients are used by the
performance and study
than one-fourth of the the numerous treatment plants, while other pollutants

municipal wastewater processes involved, as are transferred to the soil

treatment facilities in this well as potential impacts by adsorption, where many
country. Lagoons remove on the environment, e.g. are mineralized or broken
biodegradable organic groundwater, surface water, down over time by microbial
material and some of the and any crop that may be action.
nitrogen from wastewater. grown.

Biologically Degradable Wastewater Treated in the U.S. has
increased since 1940, however, treatment efficiency has
improved so that pollution has decreased.

Influent BOD5

Effluent BOD5
Removal Efficiency

BOD5 Removal Efficiency (%)

BOD5 Loading (metric tons/day)


Constructed Wetlands
Wetlands are areas where
the water saturates the
30,000 ground long enough to
support and maintain
wetland vegetation such
as reeds, bulrush, and
cattails. A “constructed
0 wetlands” treatment system is
1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 1996 2016 designed to treat wastewater
Year by passing it through the
165 gal/capita-day is based on data in the Clean Water Needs Surveys for 1978 wetland. Natural physical,
through 1986 and accounts for residential, commercial, industrial, stormwater, and
infiltration and inflow components. chemical, and biological
wetland processes have been
Rapid Infiltration Overland Flow recreated and enhanced
The rapid infiltration in constructed wetlands
This method has been used
process is most frequently designed specifically to treat
successfully by the food
used to polish and recover wastewater from industries,
processing industries for
wastewater effluents for small communities, storm
many years to remove solids,
reuse after pretreatment by runoff from urban and
bacteria and nutrients from agricultural areas, and acid
secondary and advanced
wastewater. The wastewater mine drainage. Significant
treatment processes. It is
is allowed to flow down a water quality improvements,
also effective in cold or
gently-sloped surface that is including nutrient reduction,
wet weather and has been
successfully used in Florida, planted with vegetation to can be achieved
northeastern and arid control runoff and erosion. Constructed Wetlands

southwestern states. Large Heavy clay soils are well

amounts of wastewater suited to the overland flow
are applied to permeable process. As the water flows
soils in a limited land area down the slope, the soil and
and allowed to infiltrate its microorganisms form a
and percolate downward gelatinous slime layer similar
through the soil into the in many ways to a trickling
water table below. If the
filter that effectively removes
water is to be reused, it can
solids, pathogens, and nutri-
be recovered by wells. The
ents. Water that is not
cost-effectiveness of this
absorbed or evaporated is
process depends on the soil’s
ability to percolate a large recovered at the bottom of
volume of water quickly and the slope for discharge or
efficiently, so suitable soil reuse.
drainage is important.

Land Treatment - Rapid Infiltration

The National Pretreatment
Program, a cooperative
effort of Federal, state,
POTWs and their industrial
dischargers, requires industry
Disinfection chlorine gas is used less to control the amount of
Untreated domestic frequently now than in the pollutants discharged into
wastewater contains micro- past. municipal sewer systems.
organisms or pathogens that Pretreatment protects the
produce human diseases.
Ozone wastewater treatment
Ozone is produced from
Processes used to kill or facilities and its workers
oxygen exposed to a high
deactivate these harmful from pollutants that may
voltage current. Ozone is
organisms are called create hazards or interfere
very effective at destroying
disinfection. Chlorine is the with the operation and
viruses and bacteria and
most widely used disinfectant performance of the POTW,
decomposes back to oxygen
but ozone and ultraviolet including contamination of
rapidly without leaving
radiation are also frequently sewage sludge, and reduces
harmful by products. Ozone
used for wastewater effluent the likelihood that untreated
is not very economical due to
disinfection. pollutants are introduced into
high energy costs.
the receiving waters.
Ultraviolet Radiation
Chlorine kills micro-
Ultra violet (UV) disinfection Under the Federal
organisms by destroying
occurs when electromagnetic Pretreatment Program,
cellular material. This
energy in the form of light in municipal wastewater
chemical can be applied to
the UV spectrum produced plants receiving significant
wastewater as a gas, a liquid
by mercury arc lamps industrial discharges must
or in a solid form similar to
penetrates the cell wall of develop local pretreatment
swimming pool disinfection
exposed microorganisms. programs to control
chemicals. However, any
free (uncombined) chlorine The UV radiation retards the industrial discharges into

remaining in the water, ability of the microorganisms their sewer system. These
even at low concentrations, to survive by damaging programs must be approved
is highly toxic to beneficial their genetic material. UV by either EPA or a state
aquatic life. Therefore, disinfection is a physical acting as the Pretreatment
removal of even trace treatment process that Approval Authority. More
amounts of free chlorine leaves no chemical traces. than 1,500 municipal
by dechlorination is often Organisms can sometimes treatment plants have
needed to protect fish repair and reverse the developed and received
and aquatic life. Due to destructive effects of UV approval for a Pretreatment
emergency response and when applied at low doses. Program.
potential safety concerns,

Advanced Methods of secondary are called industrial cooling and
Wastewater Treatment advanced treatment. processing, recreational uses
As our country and the and water recharge, and
demand for clean water Advanced treatment even indirect augmentation
have grown, it has become technologies can be of drinking water supplies.
more important to produce extensions of conventional
cleaner wastewater effluents, secondary biological Nitrogen Control
yet some contaminants are treatment to further Nitrogen in one form
more difficult to remove stabilize oxygen-demanding or another is present in
than others. The demand substances in the wastewater, municipal wastewater and
for cleaner discharges has or to remove nitrogen and is usually not removed by
been met through better phosphorus. Advanced secondary treatment. If

and more complete methods treatment may also discharged into lakes and

of removing pollutants at involve physical-chemical streams or estuary waters,

wastewater treatment plants, separation techniques nitrogen in the form of

in addition to pretreatment such as adsorption, ammonia can exert a

direct demand on oxygen
and pollution prevention flocculation/precipitation,
or stimulate the excessive
which helps limit types of membranes for advanced
growth of algae. Ammonia
wastes discharged to the filtration, ion exchange,
in wastewater effluent can be
sanitary sewer system. and reverse osmosis. In
toxic to aquatic life in certain
Currently, nearly all WWTPs various combinations, these
provide a minimum of processes can achieve any
secondary treatment. In degree of pollution control
By providing additional
some receiving waters, the desired. As wastewater is
biological treatment beyond
discharge of secondary purified to higher and higher
the secondary stage,
treatment effluent would degrees by such advanced
nitrifying bacteria present
still degrade water quality treatment processes, the
in wastewater treatment can
and inhibit aquatic life. treated effluents can be
biologically convert ammonia
Further treatment is needed. reused for urban, landscape,
to the non-toxic nitrate
Treatment levels beyond and agricultural irrigation,
through a process known as
nitrification. The nitrification
process is normally sufficient
to remove the toxicity
associated with ammonia in
the effluent. Since nitrate
is also a nutrient, excess
amounts can contribute to
the uncontrolled growth of
algae. In situations where
nitrogen must be completely
removed from effluent, an
Monitoring a discharger as part of a Pretreatment Program

Nitrification Process Tank

additional biological process

can be added to the system
to convert the nitrate to
nitrogen gas. The conversion
of nitrate to nitrogen gas is
accomplished by bacteria
in a process known as
denitrification. Effluent
with nitrogen in the form of
nitrate is placed into a tank
Biological Phosphorus Coagulation-
devoid of oxygen, where
Control sedimentation
carbon-containing chemicals,
Like nitrogen, phosphorus A process known as chemical
such as methanol, are added
is also a necessary nutrient coagulation-sedimentation
or a small stream of raw
for the growth of algae. is used to increase the
wastewater is mixed in with
Phosphorus reduction is removal of solids from
the nitrified effluent. In this
often needed to prevent effluent after primary
oxygen free environment,
excessive algal growth and secondary treatment.
bacteria use the oxygen
before discharging effluent Solids heavier than water
attached to the nitrogen in
into lakes, reservoirs and settle out of wastewater by
the nitrate form releasing
estuaries. Phosphorus gravity. With the addition of
nitrogen gas. Because
removal can be achieved specific chemicals, solids can
through chemical addition become heavier than water
and a coagulation- and will settle.
sedimentation process
discussed in the following Alum, lime, or iron salts
CHEMICAL section. Some biological are chemicals added to
treatment processes the wastewater to remove
called biological nutrient phosphorus. With these
removal (BNR) can also chemicals, the smaller
achieve nutrient reduction, particles ‘floc’ or clump
removing both nitrogen
together into large masses.
and phosphorus. Most of
The larger masses of
the BNR processes involve
particles will settle faster
modifications of suspended
when the effluent reaches the
growth treatment systems
nitrogen comprises almost so that the bacteria in these next step--the sedimentation
80 percent of the air in the systems also convert nitrate tank. This process can
earth’s atmosphere, the nitrogen to inert nitrogen gas reduce the concentration of
release of nitrogen into the phosphate by more than 95
and trap phosphorus in the
atmosphere does not cause
solids that are removed from percent.
any environmental harm.
the effluent.

Although used for years in Carbon adsorption consists enforce the need to employ
the treatment of industrial of passing the wastewater environmentally sound
wastes and in water effluent through a bed or residuals management
treatment, coagulation- canister of activated carbon techniques and to
sedimentation is considered granules or powder which beneficially use biosolids
an advanced process remove more than 98 whenever possible. Biosolids
because it is not routinely percent of the trace organic are processed wastewater
applied to the treatment of substances. The substances solids (“sewage sludge”)
municipal wastewater. In adhere to the carbon surface that meet rigorous standards
some cases, the process and are removed from the allowing safe reuse for
is used as a necessary water. To help reduce the beneficial purposes.
pretreatment step for other cost of the procedure, the Currently, more than half
advanced techniques. This carbon granules can be of the biosolids produced
process produces a chemical cleaned by heating and used by municipal wastewater
sludge, and the cost of again. treatment systems is
disposing this material can applied to land as a soil
The Use or Disposal of
be significant. conditioner or fertilizer and
Wastewater Residuals
and Biosolids the remaining solids are
ADSORPTION incinerated or landfilled.
When pollutants are removed Ocean dumping of these
from water, there is always solids is no longer allowed.
something left over. It may
be rags and sticks caught on Prior to utilization or
the screens at the beginning disposal, biosolids are
of primary treatment. It may stabilized to control odors
be the solids that settle to and reduce the number of
the bottom of sedimentation disease-causing organisms.
tanks. Whatever it is, there Sewage solids, or sludge,
are always residuals that when separated from the Biosolids Digestor

must be reused, burned,

Carbon adsorption
buried, or disposed of in
Carbon adsorption
some manner that does not
technology can remove
harm the environment.
organic materials from
wastewater that resist
removal by biological The utilization and disposal
treatment. These resistant, of the residual process solids
trace organic substances can is addressed by the CWA,
contribute to taste and odor Resource Conservation
problems in water, taint fish and Recovery Act (RCRA),
flesh, and cause foaming and other federal laws.
and fish kills. These Federal laws re-

wastewater, still contain Stabilization of solids may are transported to the soil
around 98 percent water. also be accomplished by treatment areas. The slurry
They are usually thickened composting, heat treatments, or dewatered biosolids,
and may be dewatered drying or the addition containing nutrients and
to reduce the volume to of lime or other alkaline stabilized organic matter, is
be transported for final materials. After stabilization, spread over the land to give
processing, disposal, or the biosolids can be safely nature a hand in returning
beneficial use. Dewatering spread on land. grass, trees, and flowers to
processes include drying barren land. Restoration of
Land Application the countryside also helps
beds, belt filter presses,
plate and frame presses, In many areas, biosolids control the flow of acid
and centrifuges. To improve are marketed to farmers as drainage from mines that
fertilizer. Federal regulation endangers fish and other
dewatering effectiveness,
(40 CFR Pert 503) defines aquatic life and contaminates
the solids can be pretreated
minimum requirements the water with acid, salts,
with chemicals such as lime,
for such land application and excessive quantities of
ferric chloride, or polymers
practices, including metals.
to produce larger particles
contaminant limits, field
which are easier to remove.
management practices, Incineration
Digestion is a form of
treatment requirements, Incineration consists of
stabilization where the
monitoring, recordkeeping, burning the dried solids
volatile material in the
and reporting requirements. to reduce the organic
wastewater solids can
Properly treated and residuals to an ash that
decompose naturally and the
applied biosolids are a can be disposed or reused.
potential for odor production
good source of organic Incinerators often include
is reduced. Digestion without
matter for improving soil heat recovery features.
air in an enclosed tank
structure and help supply Undigested sludge solids
(anaerobic solids digestion) nitrogen, phosphorus, and have significant fuel value as
has the added benefit of micronutrients that are a result of their high organic
producing methane gas required by plants. content. However, the water
which can be recovered and Biosolids have also been content must be greatly
Land Application of Biosoilds used as a source of energy. used successfully for many reduced by dewatering or
years as a soil conditioner drying to take advantage
and fertilizer, and for of the fuel potential of
restoring and revegetating the biosolids. For this
areas with poor soils due to reason, pressure filtration
construction activities, strip dewatering equipment is
mining or other practices. used to obtain biosolids
Under this biosolids which are sufficiently dry
management approach, to burn without continual
treated solids in semi- reliance on auxiliary fuels.
liquid or dewatered form In some cities, biosolids are

Composted Biosolids

systems and cluster systems.

An onsite system is a
wastewater system relying on
natural processes, although
sometimes containing
mechanical components,
to collect, treat, disperse
or reclaim wastewater
mixed with refuse or refuse- (i.e. cadmium, mercury, from a single dwelling or
derived fuel prior to burning. and lead) and persistent building. A septic tank and
Generally, waste heat is organic compounds from soil adsorption field is an
recovered to provide the contaminating the residuals example of an onsite system.
greatest amount of energy of wastewater treatment and A wastewater collection and
efficiency. limiting the potential for treatment system under some
beneficial use. form of common ownership
Beneficial Use Products that collects wastewater from
from Biosolids
Effective stabilization two or more dwellings or
Heat dried biosolids pellets
of wastewater residuals buildings and conveys it to
have been produced and
and their conversion to a treatment and dispersal
used extensively as a
biosolid products can be system located on a suitable
fertilizer product for lawn
costly. Some cities have site near the dwellings or
care, turf production, citrus
produced fertilizers from buildings is a cluster system.
groves, and vegetable
biosolids which are sold to Decentralized systems
production for many years.
help pay part of the cost include those using
Composting of biosolids
of treating wastewater. alternative treatment
is also a well established
Some municipalities use technologies like media
approach to solids
composted, heat dried, filters, constructed wetland
management that has been
or lime stabilized biosolid systems, aerobic treatment
adopted by a number of
products on parks and other units, and a variety of soil
communities. The composted dispersal systems. Soil
public areas.
peat-like product has shown dispersal systems include Egg-shaped Digestors
particular promise for use Decentralized (Onsite
in the production of soil and Cluster) Systems
additives for revegetation of
topsoil depleted areas, and A decentralized wastewater
as a potting soil amendment. system treats sewage from
homes and businesses
Effective pretreatment that are not connected to
of industrial wastes a centralized wastewater
prevents excessive levels treatment plant.
of unwanted constituents, Decentralized treatment
such as heavy metals systems include onsite

pressure systems such as water prior to dispersal in the bottom of the tank,
low pressure pipe and drip into the environment; a referred to as septage, must
dispersal systems. These soil dispersal component be removed and disposed of
systems treat and disperse which assures that treated properly.
relatively small volumes water is released into the
of wastewater, and are environment at a rate which Aerobic Treatment Units
generally are found in can be assimilated; and a Aerobic treatment units
rural and suburban areas. management system which are also used to provide
While septic tanks and soil assures proper long term onsite wastewater treatment.
absorption systems have operation of the complete They are similar to septic
significant limitations, system. Disinfection tanks, except that air is
decentralized systems can of the treated effluent introduced and mixed with
effectively protect water may be provided prior the wastewater inside the
quality and public health to dispersal. A typical tank. Aerobic (requiring
from groundwater and onsite system consists of a oxygen) bacteria consume
surface water contamination septic tank followed by an the organic matter in the
if managed properly (i.e. effluent distribution system. sewage. As with the typical
properly sited, sized, Alternative treatment systems septic system, the effluent
designed, installed, include aerobic treatment discharge from an aerobic
operated, and maintained). and sand filtration systems. system is typically released
Nitrate concentrations in through a sub-surface
groundwater that exceed the Conventional Septic distribution system or may be
drinking water standards can Tanks disinfected and discharged
cause health problems. A septic tank is a tank buried directly to surface water.
in the ground used to treat Aerobic treatment units also
Treatment sewage without the presence require the removal and
Onsite wastewater systems of oxygen (anaerobic). The proper disposal of solids that
contain three components: sewage flows from the accumulate in the tank.
Septic tank and distribution box
a treatment unit which treats plumbing in a home or small
business establishment into Media Filters
the first of two chambers, Media filters are used to
where solids settle out. The provide further treatment
liquid then flows into the of septic tank effluent,
second chamber. Anaerobic and provide high levels of
bacteria in the sewage break nitrification. They can be
down the organic matter, designed to pass the effluent
allowing cleaner water once or multiple times
to flow out of the second through the media bed.
chamber. The liquid typically Media, such as sand, acts as
discharges through a sub- a filter. The media is placed
surface distribution system. two to three feet deep above
Periodically, the solid matter a liner of impermeable

Onsite aerobic treatment unit

Mound System
When the soil is not
conducive to percolation or
when the groundwater level
is high, a mound system is
commonly used. A mound
system is a distribution
system constructed above
the original ground level
by using granular material
such as sand and gravel
to receive the septic tank
effluent before it flows to
the native soil below. The
material such as plastic further treat or distribute the effluent flows to a dosing
or concrete. Septic tank treated effluent. The most tank that is equipped with a
effluent is applied to the filter common alternative dispersal pump. Here the effluent is
surface in intermittent doses systems include low pressure stored until there is sufficient
and is further treated as it pipe, mounds, drip disposal, liquid. Once the liquid is
slowly trickles through the and evapotranspiration beds. pumped out, it moves evenly
media. In most media filters, throughout the mound before
wastewater is collected in Absorbtion Field reaching less permeable
an underdrain then either When soil conditions permit, soil or ground water. The
pumped back to the filter the most common method granular material acts as
bed or to other types of to disperse septic tank or a treatment medium and
treatment. aerobic system effluent is an improves the removal of Mound system under construction
(photo courtesy of Ayres Associates)
absorption field consisting
Dispersal Approaches of a series of perforated
Traditional onsite systems parallel pipes laid in trenches
include treatment units on gravel or crushed stone
followed by a drainfield or or as a direct discharge to
absorption field. Wastewater the soil through trenches.
from the treatment unit is Typically, effluent flows into
dispersed through a suitable the absorption field from
soil layer where it receives a distribution box which
additional treatment by the maintains an even flow of
soil microorganisms and effluent to the absorption
filtering properties of the field. From there, the
soil. If the soil is unsuitable effluent drains through the
for the installation of a soil stone and into the soil which
absorption field, alternative provides further treatment.
methods can be used to

Licensed wastewater treatment plant operator

the existing systems do not

perform adequately due
to a lack of management.
Therefore, EPA promotes
the sustained management
of decentralized wastewater
systems to enhance their
performance and reliability.
EPA strongly encourages
communities to establish
management programs for
the maintenance of onsite
systems in addition to
where pretreated wastewater
improving local requirements
evaporates from the soil
for onsite system siting and
surface or is transpired by
system design. Communities
plants into the atmosphere.
benefit from effective
Usually, ET beds are used in
onsite system management
Sewer line maintenance arid climates and there is no
programs by enjoying
pollutants in ways that discharge either to surface
improved protection of public
may not be provided by or ground water. Vegetation
health and local surface
substandard native soils. is planted on the surface of
water and groundwater
the sand bed to improve the
resources, preserving rural
Drip Dispersal System transpiration process and
areas, protecting property
Where soils are very thin or landscaping enhances the
owners’ investments through
have reduced permeability, aesthetics of the bed.
increased system service
drip dispersal systems can
life, and avoiding the need
be utilized. The typical drip Management of Decen-
tralized Systems to finance costly central
system operates like drip
wastewater collection and
irrigation at a moderately Ensuring performance of
treatment systems.
high pressure. The decentralized wastewater

components of a drip system treatment systems is an Asset Management

include filters to remove issue of national concern America’s public water-
solids, a network of drip because these systems are based infrastructure – its
tubes to disperse liquid into a permanent component water supply, wastewater,
soil, tanks to hold liquid, and of our nation’s wastewater and storm water facilities,
controllers to regulate the infrastructure. Twenty- and collection/distribution
flow to the drip system. five percent of households systems – is integral to our
nationwide and one-third economic, environmental
Evapotranspiration Beds of the new homes being and cultural vitality.
Evapotranspiration (ET) bed constructed are served by Much of this country’s
is an onsite dispersal system onsite systems. Many of public wastewater system

infrastructure has crossed water quality and human Common Wastewater
the quarter-century mark, health. Most systems are in Treatment Terminology
dating back to the CWA operation every day of the Activated Sludge is a suspended
construction grant funding year, rain or shine. Licensed growth process for removing
organic matter from sewage
of the 1970s. Many of our and trained operators are by saturating it with air and
collection systems date from responsible for the day- microorganisms that can
break down the organic
the end of World War II and to-day performance of the matter.
the population boom of the wastewater system. Their Advanced Treatment involves
post war era. The oldest responsibilities include treatment levels beyond
secondary treatment.
portions of the collection budget and business
system pipe network exceed administration, public Aeration Tank is a chamber for
injecting air and oxygen into
100 years of service. relations, analytical testing, water.
Significant parts of this and mechanical engineering
Aerobic refers to a life or a
infrastructure are severely as well as overseeing the process that occurs in the
stressed from overuse and collection system and presence of oxygen.

the persistent under-funding wastewater treatment Aerobic Treatment Units

provide wastewater
of repair, rehabilitation, processes.
treatment by injecting
and replacement. In an air into a tank, allowing
increasing number of Maintenance aerobic bacteria to treat the
communities, existing Wastewater collection and
Algae are aquatic plants which
systems are deteriorating, treatment systems must grow in sunlit waters and
yet the demand for provide reliable service release oxygen into the
water. Most are a food
new infrastructure to and avoid equipment for fish and small aquatic
accommodate growth breakdowns. Most animals, but some cause
water quality problems.
presses unabated. A equipment breakdowns
can be avoided if system Alternative System A
revitalized approach to wastewater treatment or
managing capital wastewater operators inspect the collection system utilized
equipment, including in lieu of a conventional
assets for cost effective system.
performance is emerging sewer lines and manholes,
Anaerobic refers to a life or a
in this country. This asset regularly. Preventive
process that occurs in the
management approach maintenance uses data absence of free oxygen.
focuses on the cost effective obtained through the Bacteria are small living
sustained performance of the inspections in a systematic organisms which help
consume the organic
wastewater collection and way to direct maintenance constituents of sewage.
treatment system assets over activities before equipment
Barminutor is a device mounted
their useful life. failures occur. A good on bar screens in a
program will reduce wastewater treatment plant
to shred material, such
Operation breakdowns, extend as rags and debris, that
Wastewater collection and equipment life, be cost- accumulates on the bars.

treatment systems must effective, and help the Bar Screen is composed of
parallel bars that remove
be operated as designed system operators better larger objects from
to adequately protect perform their jobs. wastewater.

Black Water is the term given and biological integrity of Digestion of solids takes place in
to domestic wastewater that the Nation’s waters.” tanks where volatile organic
carries animal, human, or materials are decomposed
food wastes. Coagulation is the clumping by bacteria, resulting
together of solids to make in partial gasification,
Biological Nutrient Removal them settle out of the liquefaction, and
(BNR) is the use of bacteria sewage faster. Coagulation mineralization of pollutants.
to remove nutrients from of solids is improved by the
wastewater. use of chemicals such as Disinfection is the killing of
lime, alum, iron salts, or pathogenic microbes
Biomass is microbial growth. polymers including pathogenic
bacteria, viruses, helminths,
Biosolids are treated sewage Combined Sewers carry both
sludge solids that have and protozoans.
sewage and stormwater
been stabilized to destroy runoff. Dispersal/Percolation involves
pathogens and meet a volume of wastewater
rigorous standards allowing Comminutor is a device to catch applied to the land,
for safe reuse of this material and shred heavy solid matter penetrating the surface,
as a soil amendment. at the headworks of the and passing through the
wastewater treatment plant. underlying soil.
Biotower is a unit in which the
waste is allowed to fall Composting is the natural Dissolved Oxygen (DO) is
through a tower packed with biological decomposition the amount of free oxygen
synthetic media on which of organic material in the in solution in water, or
there is biological growth presence of air to form wastewater effluent.
similar to the trickling filter. a stabilized, humus-like Adequate concentrations
material. of dissolved oxygen are
BOD (Biochemical Oxygen
Demand) is a measure necessary for fish and other
Conventional Systems are
of oxygen consumed in aquatic organisms to live
wastewater treatment
biological processes that and to prevent offensive
systems that have been
break down organic matter odors.
traditionally used to collect
in water. municipal wastewater in Eligible Costs are those
sewers and convey it to a wastewater reduction
Carbon Adsorption is a method central facility for treatment
to treat wastewater in which activities that can be funded
prior to discharge to surface with State Revolving Fund
activated carbon removes waters. Either primary or
trace organic matter that (SRF) loans.
secondary treatment may be
resists degradation. provided in a conventional Effluent is the treated liquid that
Chlorination is the process system. comes out of a treatment
of adding chlorine gas or plant after completion of the
Denitrification is the reduction treatment process.
chlorine compounds to of nitrite to nitrogen gas.
wastewater for disinfection. Denitrification is carried Eutrophication is the normally
Chlorinator is a device that adds out in wastewater treatment slow aging process by
chlorine, in gas or liquid tanks by bacteria under which a lake evolves
form, to wastewater to kill anoxic conditions. The into a bog or marsh and
infectious bacteria. bacteria use the nitrate for ultimately disappears.
energy, and in the process, During eutrophication, the
Clarifier also known as a settling release nitrogen gas. The lake becomes enriched
tank, removes solids from nitrogen gas, a major with nutrients, especially
wastewater by gravity settling constituent of air, is released nitrogen and phosphorus,
or by coagulation. to the atmosphere. which support the excess
production of algae and
Clean Water Act (Federal Diffused Air is a technique by other aquatic plant life.
Water Pollution Control Act) which air under pressure Eutrophication may be
originally enacted in 1948 is forced into sewage in accelerated by many human
and amended in 1972, 1981 an aeration tank. The air activities.
and 1987, the Clean Water is pumped into the tank
Act has as its objective the through a perforated pipe Evapotranspiration is the
restoration and maintenance and moves as bubbles uptake of water from the
of the “chemical, physical, through the sewage. soil by evaporation and by

transpiration from the plants Inorganic refers to compounds Mound System is an effluent
growing thereon. that do not contain carbon. disposal system involving a
mound of soil built up on the
Floc is a clump of solids formed Interceptors are large sewer original ground surface to
in sewage by biological or lines that collect the flows which effluent is distributed.
chemical action. from smaller main and trunk
sewers and carry them to the National Pollutant Discharge
Flocculation is the process treatment plant. Elimination System
by which clumps of solids (NPDES) is a program
in sewage are made to Intermittent sand filter involves established by the Clean
increase in size by chemical a bed of sand or other Water Act (CWA) that
action. fine-grained material to requires all wastewater
which wastewater is applied discharges into “waters of
Gray Water refers to domestic intermittently in flooding the United States” to obtain
wastewater composed of doses. a permit issued by the US
wash water from sinks, Environmental Protection
shower, washing machines Lagoon is a shallow pond in Agency (EPA) or a state
(does not include toilet which algae, aerobic and agency authorized by the
wastewater). anaerobic bacterial purify EPA.
Grinder Pump is a mechanical Nitrification is the biochemical
device which shreds Land Application is the oxidation of ammonium to
wastewater solids and raises controlled application of nitrate.
the fluid pressure level high wastewater or biosolids onto
enough to pass wastewater the ground for treatment Nitrogenous Wastes are wastes
through small diameter and/or reuse. that contain a significant
pressure sewers. concentration of nitrogen.
Lateral Sewers are small pipes
Grit Chamber is a small that are placed in the Nutrients are elements or
detention basin designed to ground to receive sewage compounds essential as
permit the settling of coarse, from homes and businesses raw materials for plant
heavy inorganic solids, such and convey it to main, trunk and animal growth and
as sand, while allowing the and interceptor sewer lines development.
lighter organic solids to pass leading to the wastewater
through the chamber. Organic Matter is the
treatment plant. carbonaceous material
Groundwater is the zone Mechanical Aeration uses contained in plants or
beneath the ground surface mechanical energy to inject animals and wastes.
saturated with water that has
air from the atmosphere into Overland Flow is land treatment
seeped down through soil
water to provide oxygen to which involves the controlled
and rock.
create aerobic conditions. application of wastewater
Impervious means resistant to onto grass-covered gentle
Media Filters involves a bed of
penetration by fluids or by slopes, with impermeable
sand or other fine-grained
roots. surface soils. As water flows
material to which wastewater
over the grass-covered soil
Incineration involves combustion is applied, generally to
surface, contaminants are
of the organic matter in physically remove suspended
removed and the water is
sewage sludge, producing a solids from sewage.
collected at the bottom of
residual inert ash. Bacteria on the media
the slope for reuse.
decompose additional
Infiltration is the penetration of wastes. Treated water drains Oxidation involves aerobic
water through the ground from the bed. Solids that bacteria breaking down
into sub-surface soil or the accumulate at the surface organic matter and oxygen
passing of water from the must be removed from the combining with chemicals in
soil into a pipe, such as a bed periodically. sewage.
Microbes is shorthand for Oxidation Pond is an aerated
Influent refers to water, microorganisms. man-made pond used for
wastewater, or other liquid wastewater treatment.
flowing into a reservoir, Million Gallons Per Day (MGD)
basin or treatment plant, or is a measurement of the Ozonation is a disinfection
any unit thereof. volume of water. process where ozone is

generated and added to Pump is a mechanical device Septage refers to the residual
wastewater effluent to kill for raising or lifting water or solids in septic tanks or
pathogenic organisms. other fluid, or for applying other on-site wastewater
pressure to fluids in pipes. treatment systems that must
Pathogens are disease-causing be removed periodically for
microorganisms, including Receiving Waters are disposal.
pathogenic bacteria, viruses, waterbodies (i.e. rivers,
helminths, and protozoans. lakes, oceans, or other Septic Tanks are a type of onsite
water courses) that receive wastewater treatment system
Percolation is the movement discharges of treated or in which the organic waste
of water through sub- is decomposed and solids
untreated wastewater.
surface soil layers, usually settle out. The effluent
continuing downward to the Rotating Biological Contactor flows out of the tank to a
groundwater. (RBC) is a wastewater soil adsorption field or other
treatment process involving dispersal system.
Permeability is a measure of
the ease with which water large, closely-spaced
plastic discs rotated about a Sequencing Batch Reactors
penetrates or passes through
horizontal shaft. The discs (SBR) are a variation
alternately move through of the activated sludge
Phosphorus is a nutrient that the wastewater and the air, process where all treatment
is essential to life, but in developing a biological processes occur in one tank
excess, contributes to the growth on the surface of the that is filled with wastewater
eutrophication of lakes and discs that removes organic and drawn down to
other water bodies. material in the wastewater. discharge after treatment is
Pollution results when Sanitary Sewer is the collection
contaminants in human, system for transporting Settleable Solids are solids that
animal, vegetable, mineral, domestic and industrial are heavier than water and
chemical or thermal waste wastewater to municipal settle out of water by gravity.
or discharges reach water, wastewater treatment
making it less desirable Sewers are a system of pipes
facilities. Stormwater is not
for domestic, recreation, that collect and deliver
directed into this system but
industry, or wildlife uses. wastewater and/or
is handled by a separate
stormwater to treatment
Polymer is a long chain organic plants or receiving waters.
compound produced by Secondary Treatment is the
the joining of primary units Soil Absorption Field is a
second stage in most
called monomers. Polymers subsurface area containing
wastewater treatment
are used to improve settling a trench or bed with a
systems in which bacteria minimum depth of 12
of suspended solids, remove consume the organic matter
solids from wastewater, inches of clean stones and
in wastewater. Federal a system of piping through
and improve dewatering of regulations define secondary
biosolids. which treated wastewater
treatment as meeting effluent is distributed into the
Pressure Sewers are a system minimum removal standards surrounding soil for further
of pipes in which the water, for BOD, TSS, and pH in treatment and disposal.
wastewater or other liquid is the discharged effluents
transported under pressure from municipal wastewater Slow Rate Land Treatment
supplied by pumps. treatment facilities. involves the controlled
application of wastewater
Pretreatment involves treatment Sedimentation Tanks are to vegetated land at a few
of wastes or wastewater by wastewater treatment tanks inches of liquid per week.
industries performed prior in which floating wastes are
to the discharge to the sewer skimmed off and settled Storm Sewers are a separate
system. solids are removed for system of pipes that carry
disposal. rain and snow melt from
Primary Treatment is the buildings, streets and yards
initial stage of wastewater Seepage is the slow movement to surface waters.
treatment that removes of water through small
floating material and cracks or pores of the soil, Suspended Solids are the small
material that easily settles or out of a pond, tank or particles suspended in water
out. pipe. or wastewater.

Transpiration is the process Virus is the smallest form of
by which water vapor is a pathogen which can
released to the atmosphere reproduce within host cells.
by living plants.
Wastewater Treatment Plant is
Trickling Filter is a fixed film a facility involving a series
process that involves a tank, of tanks, screens, filters, and
usually filled with a bed of other treatment processes
rocks, stones or synthetic by which pollutants are
media, to support bacterial removed from water.
growth used to treat
wastewater. Water Table is the elevation of
groundwater or saturated
Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) is a soil level in the ground.
disinfection process where
wastewater is exposed to UV
light for disinfection.

For more information see: