Why partnership working is the answer

The analysis of water has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, meaning we know more than ever before about the trace elements and pollutants found within it.

This increased transparency, good though it is, brings with it new challenges with which the water industry is grappling. The fact that we know more about the makeup of our wastewater, means that the industry is striving to remove more pollutants than ever before.

Wastewater is typically treated in three stages: primary, secondary and tertiary. The first two stages are mostly concerned with removing grit, gravel and solids from the water, whilst the third stage is more complex dealing with the removal of chemicals from the wastewater. Preventing chemicals leaching into the environment and keeping water safe, means the tertiary stage tends to prove the most challenging, technically and economically.

The impact of pollutants

The chemicals found in our water come from a number of sources including, pharmaceutical, chemical and agrochemical manufacturing and use, waste management leachate, plus the manufacture and disposal of personal care products – and the impact of these chemicals is complex.

Chemicals are often designed to affect mammals or plants, influencing how they grow for example – if these chemicals are introduced into the environment they can cause problems for the human population, mammals, aquatic life and the broader ecosystem too, affecting biodiversity.

We know that the presence of phosphorus, for example, is causing eutrophication and having a negative impact on aquatic species. Whilst the accumulation of micropollutants in the food chain and endocrine disrupting compounds in our water sources are also concerns.

Problems posed by pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals pose another problem, the vast majority of prescription medicines like antidepressants or antibiotics, find their way back into our waterways when excreted, potentially having an impact on the environment.

We know that the presence of antibiotics, for example, is a contributing factor in the growth of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – cited by the World Health Organisation as one of the biggest threats to global health. AMR leads to standard treatments becoming ineffective and infections persisting in the body, which can then spread more readily to other people.

Effective water analysis

Now water can be analysed more effectively than was previously the case, the scale of micropollutant contamination has been revealed and more stringent regulations are being put in place.

Some traditional wastewater treatments have proven ineffective in taking these contaminants out or in breaking them down. Indeed, a recent study of 29 small waterways across ten European Union countries by Casado, Brigden, Santillo and Johnston, found that all of the sampled streams were contaminated with pesticides and most of them with veterinary drugs too.

Water has become increasingly complex due to the presence of micropollutants and a more holistic view needs to be taken of how pollutants get into our water and how it is treated.

The challenge ahead

Water is essential to life and it is also a finite resource which makes finding effective water treatments all the more imperative. Already the World Health Organisation has estimated that around 3 in 10 people across the globe, or 2.1 billion, lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 6 in 10, or 4.5 billion, lack safely managed sanitation.

Looking ahead, reports from the 2030 Water Resources Group suggest that the demand for unpolluted water will outstrip the available supply by 60% in 2030 – in a mere 11 years’ time. This is why improving the treatment of wastewater is such an important step, so we can make the most of our existing water resources, safely.

Industrial water reuse

Meeting this challenge is not all about drinking water. One way to take the pressure off our precious clean water supplies is to assist manufacturers in treating and reusing their wastewater for industrial purposes – but how best can this be achieved?

Treating industrial wastewater is particularly complex and some traditional solutions simply aren’t effective enough at extracting micropollutants, whilst other technologies create a different molecule that is almost as problematic as the original chemical.

The resulting waste products typically need to be relocated and disposed of either via landfill or incineration – setting off another cycle of problems. Each transfer and journey of waste increases the risk of pollution, the health and safety risks, the carbon footprint and the costs involved.

A good case in point

Does an alternative exist? It is commonplace for tertiary wastewater treatment to take the approach of either adsorption (concentrating waste up onto another medium for removal) or oxidation (which destroys the unwanted compound).

Arvia’s Nyex system is a tertiary treatment process which combines the two approaches – adsorption with oxidation – in one unit, localising trace chemical elements and removing them from industrial wastewater so that it can be safely discharged within environmental compliance or reused in an industrial context.

Installed on-site and at source, this compact, modular system, reduces the environmental impact of treatment, reduces the health and safety risks associated with it and increases its economic sustainability.

The fact that the wastewater is treated on-site at source, and in isolated streams, makes it a simpler, targeted and safer process, proving less volatile than when waste is first combined and then treated.

No chemical dosing is involved which reduces the environmental risks and operational costs. Whilst the need to transport the waste to another site and provide further treatment is also negated – making it even more cost-effective and reducing the carbon footprint too.

Eminently adaptable, this modular system is future-proofed and can be added to at any point to accommodate the flow on-site. Nyex systems work highly successfully as both standalone systems or utilised to complement other treatment processes.

Economic sustainability is one of the greatest challenges posed by industrial wastewater treatment and as Arvia’s Nyex system enables industrial wastewater to remain on-site and be reused, the on-site utility costs are reduced. Manufacturers have a ready source of water to hand.

Tried and tested

Proving highly effective too, a series of trials of Arvia’s Nyex system were carried out by PWNT, part of Dutch water utility PWN, to find a viable treatment solution for the Ijssel Meer surface water, Ion Exchange (IX) brine and Electrodialysis (ED) brine.

Analysis of the samples, including an external laboratory analysis for micropollutants to validate the in-house data, showed high removal rates with most compounds achieving over 90% removal. Overall, the Nyex system is effective, proving good for the environment, good for a company’s corporate social responsibility and good from an economic standpoint too.

Providing the opportunity for better use to be made of industrial wastewater, Nyex enables this wastewater to be reused and in doing so, takes some of the pressure off our precious clean water resources.

Partnership working

Securing enough water resources for the coming years will take more than a single solution, a holistic and collective approach is what’s required. Arvia’s Nyex system takes its place as one element in this broad approach, helping the best use to be made of wastewater emanating from industrial processes.

All in all, a more holistic view is needed of how contaminants get into the water and how they are treated. The water industry, public sector organisations, the government and other stakeholders need to work together to meet the challenges ahead. In short, partnership working is the answer to relieve the pressures on our water resources.

Looking forward

“Water is incredibly complex,” observes Mike Lodge, CEO of Arvia. “The answer to enabling wastewater treatment to work as effectively as possible is collaborative working. We’re interested in working with industry partners to bring about a step change in wastewater treatment for the greater good of the environment and society. It’s by working together, that we can meet the challenges ahead and make the most of our precious water resources.”