The fallacy of replacing septic tanks with water treatment plants

first_imgDear Editor,An article which appeared in the news media recently reported on the deliberations of the Wastewater Conference held at the head office of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI). At that meeting, junior Minister of Communities, Dawn Hastings-Williams, stated that future housing schemes in Guyana would have centrally installed water treatment plants, instead of septic tanks for individual premises. The objective for this proposed upgrade, as claimed, is to address the growing threat of water pollution.Dr. Van West Charles, GWI’s Managing Director, in his presentation to the Conference, was non-committal with respect to the introduction of central treatment of wastewater from homes, as opposed to septic tanks, as is presently the widespread practice in Guyana. He correctly noted that many of the installed septic tanks are not performing as intended because of poor design and construction, and stated that his staff was preparing designs for efficiently-operated septic tanks; and where possible, their replacement with the best water treatment plant option available will be examined.Unfortunately, he failed to recognise that soak-away pits are necessary accessories for the efficient operation of septic tanks, and that there is urgent need for countrywide regulatory oversight of septic tanks’ system design and construction.Water/sewage treatment plants are expensive to construct, operate and maintain, and Guyana does not have the resources to introduce this system for waste disposal from its populated areas anytime soon. Because of the lack of finance, Georgetown does not have a central treatment plant, and its wastewater is pumped directly into the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, well-designed septic tanks with soak away pits will have to be the modus operandi to treat wastewater/sewage from human activities in Guyana for the foreseeable future. Where applicable, industries generating toxic wastes should install in-house treatment facilities in accordance with WHO Standards.It is worth noting that many homes in the United States and elsewhere still rely on septic tank systems for their wastewater treatment. Contrary to the claim made by GWI Sanitation Manager Joseph, wastewater sludge generated by any proposed Guyanese treatment facility will be uneconomic for conversion into fertiliser for the agricultural sector and/or to harness its chemical energy to generate electricity for the National Grid. New York City pays to dump its wastewater sludge onto landfills and in the Atlantic Ocean, as there are no markets available for it as a fertiliser for agricultural crops, or to harness its chemical energy to generate electricity.Ms Hasting-Williams and Dr Van West Charles no doubt have ambitious ideas to deal with the treatment of wastewater before it becomes a major health issue. However, they have failed to comprehend that contaminated drinking water poses a far greater danger to the health of all Guyanese.Therefore, they should direct their energies and limited Government resources at their disposal to provide safe and reliable drinking (potable) water for all the people. This is not the case presently, as much of the water produced is distributed untreated and unfiltered.Yours truly,Charles Sohanlast_img

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