Skip Navigation

Tox Town - Environmental health concerns and toxic chemicals where you live, work, and play
Wastewater Treatment Facilityen español

What is a wastewater treatment facility?

Wastewater is used water from homes, businesses, hospitals, and industries. Wastewater treatment facilities clean wastewater by removing pollutants before the remaining water is discharged into the environment. 

Wastewater carries everything that is flushed or goes down the drain. Extensive networks of underground pipes channel wastewater from homes and businesses in cities and suburbs to regional treatment facilities. In some regions, urban and industrial runoff collected by stormwater systems is also piped to treatment facilities. 

Wastewater can include human and animal waste, food scraps, oil, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and chemicals. It can include bacteria, funguses, parasites, and viruses. Well-managed, effective wastewater treatment facilities remove these contaminants and are essential to good public health. Untreated wastewater can contaminate drinking water sources, spread disease, harm wildlife, and pollute coastal waters. It can create gases and odors. 

Wastewater treatment facilities clean wastewater in two stages. In the first stage, solids are allowed to settle and are then removed from wastewater. In the second stage, biological processes further purify the wastewater. Chlorine then removes the remaining bacteria. Treatment facilities are usually located next to a natural waterway. After treatment, the water is discharged into a nearby river or ocean. Treated water may have high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen which can feed algae blooms. Some wastewater treatment facilities take the extra step of reducing phosphorus and nitrogen before returning the treated water to the environment. 

Workers at a wastewater treatment plant can be exposed to chlorine or other gases. They may also be exposed to pollutants in the wastewater that can spread disease and infection.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.


Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Environmental Health
Water Pollution

More Links
Biological Hazards in Sewage and Wastewater Treatment Plants (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Primer for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 4.19 MB)
Septic Tank Servicers and Sewer Pipe Cleaners. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Wastewater Treatment Water Use (US Geological Survey)
Wastewater Treatment Workers (California State Compensation Insurance Fund)
Where Does All the Dirty Water Go? (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 471 KB)

Chemicals and Wastewater Treatment
Are these chemicals in MY community?
Chlorine
Methane
Sulfur Dioxide


Last Updated: January 29, 2014

Interactive Graphic Neighborhoods City Farm Town US Border Regions Port US Southwest