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Waste Water


Why Do Companies Need Permission to Discharge Waste into the Sewer?

Polluted water being discharged from a sewer pipe into a river

A number of our environmental health and safety articles have talked about how contaminants can easily be carried over large areas by water, with this pollution bringing about death and destruction to living organisms such as plants, insects, fish and other animals. As well as deliberate discharges into watercourses, this form of pollution can also be brought about through rainfall or flooding of a site, which carries away contaminants into the local environment.

Whilst rainfall and flooding can carry away large amounts of contaminant and cause significant harm, the direct discharge of waste into a watercourse can often be more damaging. This is because it is usually in a much higher concentration, and will especially cause health issues for those fish and other aquatic creatures which are present in the water near the source where the waste is discharged and enters the waterway.

The potential devastation that can be caused by the direct discharge of waste into a sewer means that legislation exists in developed countries across the world which prohibits the discharging of waste and contaminated water into the sewer or watercourses without a valid permit to do so. The granting of this permit is only done so when officials have deemed that the quantity and/or type of waste being discharged is within accepted guidelines in terms of its potential impact upon the environment. Inspections and monitoring is also likely to be performed by external inspectors to ensure that discharges of waste still complies with the original terms for which the permit was issued, i.e. a higher concentration or different substance is not being discharged by the company after they have received a permit. Companies should also perform their own internal monitoring and checks to ensure that they are still within acceptable parameters and so will not get into trouble with regulators.


Why Contact the Sewer Provider in the Event of Pollutant Discharge?

Drains and the sewers are to many people a means of disposing any sort of waste liquid, believing that once it enters it has gone forever and no longer has anything to do with them. They are of the mindset that because it is a facility for the disposal of liquids that any sort of liquid waste can be tipped down the drain and forgotten about, as it will be up to someone else to do the necessary in terms of treating it.

The reality is that certain types of liquid substances can cause severe damage to the environment and to the health and safety of all living creatures - including human beings - and as such people need to be aware of this potential. This largely comes about through training, whether it is the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate course or a similar environmental training session which makes attendees aware of the potential devastating impact they can have upon the environment if they were to do (or not do) a certain action.

Even though drains, sewerage systems and treatment plants are designed to accommodate liquid which would cause illness and be harmful to health if ingested, there will still be certain hazardous substances which can be dangerous even after passing through the treatment plant, and can cause death and ill-health to animal and plant life if it were to somehow get into the land and groundwater. In this scenario it can make water toxic for fish and other marine creatures, and cause death or ill-health to animals which drink the water or plants whose roots take it up.

The potential for catastrophic consequences are therefore high, and as such if a company becomes aware of particularly hazardous liquids being disposed of into the drains then it needs to call the sewer provider or local environmental agency and make them aware, as certain containment steps may need to be enacted quickly to limit the impact from any such incident. It may not be safe for employees to attempt any sort of clean-up of liquids which have not gone down the drain, certainly at least before a professional assessment of the risk and evaluation of the situation, as this could jeopardise the health and safety of these individuals by having them encounter hazardous substances.

Different countries and jurisdictions will have varying legislation and regulations regarding which substances and in what quantities can be disposed of into the sewer system. Managers need to be aware of these limits, and ensure that employees have been suitably trained so that they are knowledgeable about what can and cannot be disposed of in this manner. A failure to do so can not only mean that habitats can be destroyed and plants and animals suffer, but can also result in crippling fines for the company and possibly even imprisonment for managers in extremely severe cases.


Screening Waste Water

Objects in the water which is being released into nearby watercourses can be damaging to the environment and contribute to pollution levels, particularly if the object is one which can give off harmful contaminants into the water and cause issues such as the poisoning of the water. This can result in the death of any aquatic creatures in the water such as fish, as well as those animals which rely on the water for drinking. In certain situations this contaminated water can even cause health problems for humans if it were to find its way into the drinking water supplies of homes and businesses. This is more likely in developing countries where sanitation levels and water treatment is nowhere near as comprehensive as it is in developed countries.

One of the simplest ways of removing waste materials from water is to erect screens which act as a barrier for large objects, trapping them behind the screen and preventing the item getting released into the "outside world" where it can do damage. Whilst some elements of health and safety require large expense and comprehensive training, it is refreshing to know that there are still remedies such as this which are simple and inexpensive but at the same time are highly effective at what they do.

Like many other health and safety protective measures, screens will need regular maintenance in order to ensure their continuing effectiveness. For starters, the screen will need to be regularly cleared of the build up of the waste materials. Whilst it should not reduce the effectiveness of the screen unless the weight of the build up combined with the flow of water puts so much pressure on the screen that it breaks, there is the possibility of blocking the channel and causing a flood. Not only can this damage surrounding buildings and equipment, but it will also allow the hazardous material to escape onto the land where it could ultimately do damage. The frequency of the cleaning will depend greatly upon the amount of waste material that is released and caught by the screen as the build-up can cause a dam to form.

The screen itself will also need to be monitored regularly to check it for damage which can result in gaps which let through some of the waste objects, thus lowering the effectiveness of the screen and resulting in it not doing what it was put there to do.


Temperature of Liquid Waste Discharge

Preventing water pollution and contamination will come about through a combination of management attitudes and directives, compliance with legislation, improved monitoring and control procedures, and the provision of environmental health and safety training to workers and putting them forward for qualifications like the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate for example.

The primary focus of water pollution, or more pertinently the prevention of it, usually revolves around the actual hazardous material being discharged in terms of what it is, its toxicity and what damage it can do. However one simple factor which is often overlooked is that of temperature. Non-hazardous liquid waste, even ordinary water, can be lethal for fish and other creatures living in the water if the temperature is either extremely hot or extremely cold when it comes into contact with them.

This danger will in most cases obviously only exist for those right next to the waste outlet, as hot or cold water released into a river, stream or ocean will quickly mix with the large volume of water and will not have an impact on raising the overall temperature. It will however be a problem when hot or cold liquid is released to a small, enclosed volume of water. A company may occasionally release a small amount of waste water into a pond for example, which can dramatically alter the temperature and cause harm to fish or other creatures living in the water such as frogs and tadpoles.

Even if the temperature of the water does not cause immediate damage to the health of life forms, regular discharges will over time alter the local ecosystem such as increasing the amount of algae and causing problems for other species.


Water and Environmental Training

Water is essential for life on earth, including humans, animals, and microscopic organisms. As well as water being required for life-sustaining biological processes such as energy generation, contaminated water can prove damaging or deadly, so not only is the availability of water imperative, but also its composition. This means that activities which do or may affect water quality are strongly scrutinised and controlled by environmental health and safety legislation, regulations and directives.

Environmental issues are having an ever-increasing effect upon businesses on what they can and cannot do, as well as their responsibilities with regards to environmental management and their impact upon their surroundings. It is for this reason that environmental health and safety training has increased exponentially over the last decade or two, with courses such as the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate and NEBOSH General Certificate, IOSH Managing Safely and construction courses such as the Site Managers SMSTS course all including elements of environmental protection in the syllabus.

Along with the general theory which goes with how to prevent pollution to local watercourses including lakes and rivers, businesses also need to be aware of the often numerous legislation which applies to them and is there to avoid pollution and contamination of water. A failure to learn this legislation and any subsequent breaches of it can result in serious legal consequences for the organisation or even the managers and directors personally. Ignorance of the law is not a defence, so there is no other alternative except to learn and familiarise yourself with it before a contravention occurs and it is by then too late.




Related Course

Please see below for more information on the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate:

NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate, or NEBOSH National Certificate in Environmental Management to give it its full title, is an environmental health and safety course which is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who are responsible for managing environmental issues at their workplace.

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate qualification focuses on UK law, so is really only suitable for those who are based and operate within the UK.

Click Here for More Information


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