Treated wastewater in Victoria is still contaminated, study finds. So are we and the environment safe?
At home, wastewater is the used water that disappears when you flush the toilet, empty the sink or drain the washing machine.
- At home, wastewater is the used water that disappears when you flush the toilet, empty the sink or drain the washing machine.
- Around the world, 359 billion cubic metres of wastewater is produced each year – equal to 144 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
- Read more:
We now treat half the world's wastewater – and we can make inroads into the other half
Making the most of our water
- There is no such things as “new” water.
- Our planet’s water dates back 4.5 billion years and is constantly recycled by Earth’s systems.
- As Earth’s population grows and the climate dries, we need all the water we can get.
- Water corporations achieve this by implementing stringent procedures and processes, and monitoring water quality.
- Emerging contaminants include pharmaceuticals, pesticides, phthalates (used to make plastic more durable), industrial chemicals and chemicals in personal care products.
- Study of 'forever chemicals' build-up in cattle points to ways to reduce risks
What did the study find?
- As a science-based regulator, EPA undertakes problem-based research on pollution and waste to protect the health of Victoria’s community and environment.
- We collected 230 samples of treated and untreated water at a range of wastewater treatment plants.
- None of the contaminant levels in treated water exceeded human health guidelines for drinking water and water used for recreation.
- As you might expect, concentrations of most emerging contaminants were lower in treated than untreated water.
But treatment that combines all the above processes is relatively rare. It’s used by only four out of 200 wastewater treatment plants in Victoria. These plants produce the highest grade of recycled water.
The 'yuck factor' pushes a premier towards desalination yet again, but history suggests recycled water's time has come
What does this mean for the environment?
- However, we should not forget the environment.
- A recent study detected pharmaceuticals in 258 rivers in 104 countries across all continents.
- According to the World Health Organization, trace quantities of pharmaceuticals in drinking water are very unlikely to pose risks to human health.
You can make a difference
Environmental authorities regulate how businesses and industry use, store and dispose of their waste. However, your actions at home – no matter how small – can mean fewer contaminants make it to wastewater treatment plants. Actions you can take include:
- It aims to build our understanding of what, if and how emerging contaminants are present in soil and taken up by crops irrigated with recycled water.
- Ultimately, the work will reduce the potential risks to people and the environment posed by wastewater, by ensuring official advice is current and evidence-based.