Here in Vermont, it’s rare when we don’t have all the clean water we need. It’s in part due to luck of the geographic draw, and to the hard work of wastewater treatment plant operators, and to the decisions YOU make every day when you decide how to dispose of hazardous leftovers, medications, and even food scraps.
Let’s celebrate our abundant clean water and explore how each of us can take tiny and giant steps to help keep it that way.
Here’s why you don’t want to toss or flush medications and hazardous leftovers down the drain:
HOUSES WITH SEPTIC SYSTEMS: Wastewater from your home goes into a tank buried underground. The solids settle out and partially decompose. The remaining wastewater then goes into a drain field where the natural, ongoing processes in the soil help to further break down the wastewater. Toxic materials and medications in that wastewater can harm or kill the helpful bacteria, which can cause the system to fail. Some toxic materials move through the soil untreated or unchanged, potentially contaminating groundwater or surface waters. For example, many paint removers and aerosol paint products contain the chemical methylene chloride. This chemical can pass directly through a septic system without breaking down at all. Chlorine bleach can also pass through a septic system without breaking down. Also the chlorine can react with organic matter to form new toxic chemicals.
HOUSES CONNECTED TO A COMMUNITY WASTEWATER SYSTEM: Wastewater is piped to a central sewage plant. After treatment, it is discharged into area rivers, lakes, and streams. As with home septic systems, most municipal systems rely on bacteria or other organisms to decompose the waste, and toxic materials and medications can harm or kill enough of them to cause the system to not work properly. Additionally, some medications and hazardous waste can pass through the system unchanged and thus pollute the water downstream.
Help keep our waterways clean and clear and use the drains in your house for their original purpose: to get rid of non-hazardous wastewater and human waste. That’s why CSWD provides facilities for proper disposal of hazardous waste and food scraps. For best practices on proper disposal of medications, click here.
And don’t forget to check out the Clean Water Week events, including a tour of the wastewater treatment plants in Essex and South Burlington! C’mon, admit it: You’ve always wondered what happens to your water when it flows down your pipe. It’s high-tech, it’s surprising, and through understanding what it takes to clean our wastewater, it can inspire you to make some helpful changes in how you handle those medical, hazardous, and food wastes.
Special thanks to the National Ag Safety Database for some of the information in this article.