Where does water go once it flows down the sink drain? What about the water trickling down the street into storm drains? Or water discarded from industrial activities? Wastewater is “used water” that’s created by households, cities, and industry. It’s most commonly associated with sewage, but we can also talk about surface runoff and [stormwater](https://publiclab.org/wiki/stormwater) that flows from roadways into storm drains. In any case, wastewater and stormwater eventually end up in the environment. Because wastewater can come from many different sources, it can contain a variety of pollutants—soaps and personal care products, sanitary waste, pesticides and fertilizers, and fuel, to name a few. Industrial processes might produce wastewater laced with heavy metals or heated so hot that it harms living things nearby. **On this page we’ll collect and organize resources on wastewater and how people can begin to investigate it.** Visit the [wastewater tag page](https://publiclab.org/tag/wastewater) to see the latest community posts about wastewater on Public Lab, and get updates on this topic by following: Follow wastewater Sources: [Wastewater pollution](https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/wastewater/pollution.html) _Lead image: @alejobonifacio sampling along the Suquía River near a wastewater treatment plant._ On this page you can: See community stories and projects on wastewater Join the conversation Ask a question, answer a question, or follow future questions on wastewater Post an issue brief that describes your local concern about wastewater Research wastewater Get started with observing and documenting wastewater pollution Learn more about wastewater and how people can be exposed to it Learn about different ways to monitor wastewater Do or add an activity Learn about regulations for wastewater and what community members can do Find further reading and resources on wastewater See next step challenges in wastewater community science and method development ## Community stories and projects Public Lab community projects tagged with `wastewater-project` will appear here [wikis:wastewater-project] You can also find stormwater-related projects here: [https://publiclab.org/wiki/stormwater#Project+Pages](https://publiclab.org/wiki/stormwater#Project+Pages) Do you have a project or story to share? Start a project page or write a research note and add the tag #wastewater-project, or post links here! ## Join the conversation ### Questions from the community + See if other community members are asking questions like yours + Ask a question so other community members can offer support + Sign up below to be notified when someone asks a wastewater-related question Questions tagged with `question:wastewater` will appear here [questions:wastewater] ### Post an Issue Brief Share a local concern or issue about wastewater pollution and get support from the Public Lab community by writing and posting an Issue Brief. Visit “[Write an Issue Brief](https://publiclab.org/wiki/issue-brief)” to find information on what an issue brief is, see examples, and learn how to write one. ## Research wastewater _Image: @warren_ The Public Lab community is here to support people as they plan and carry out investigations into local wastewater pollution. Anyone can [ask questions](https://publiclab.org/wiki/wastewater#Questions+from+the+community), start an [issue brief](https://publiclab.org/wiki/wastewater#Post+an+Issue+Brief) with any amount of information available, or start [documenting a project](https://publiclab.org/wiki/projects). ### Some places to start Here are some activities you might want to try when starting to research wastewater pollution. [notes:grid:getting-started-wastewater] #### Information on wastewater pollution ##### Sewer systems and how people get exposed to wastewater In cities and towns in the US, you’ll mostly find two different kinds of sewer systems that collect and transport wastewater: combined sewer systems and separate sewer systems. **Combined sewer systems** collect both stormwater runoff from storm drains AND raw sewage from buildings and households. The stormwater and sanitary sewage are both directed in a single pipe to a wastewater treatment plant to be cleaned. When there are heavy rains, however, this increases the amount of stormwater flowing into the combined system. Not all the extra incoming water can be handled by the wastewater treatment plant, and so the rest is released directly into the environment as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), raw sewage and all. In New York City, for example, [about 60% of the city is served by a combined sewer system](https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/water/combined-sewer-overflows.page). **Separate sewer systems** have, as one might guess, separate pipes for stormwater and sanitary sewage. Many stormwater systems in the US are Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) that have to follow regional and federal permit regulations to reduce water pollution. In most cases, though, the stormwater isn’t fully treated before it gets released into the environment. A separate sanitary sewer system transports raw sewage from households, businesses, and other buildings to a wastewater treatment plant. There, the sewage is treated and the cleaned water is released into the environment. **With any kind of sewer system, there’s the threat of exposing people to wastewater**. Untreated or under-treated wastewater can make its way into waterbodies that people use for recreation, fishing, or drinking water. [Pollutants can also become airborne when wastewater enters coastal areas](https://peerj.com/articles/11358/). The wastewater might be legally released under a permit, it might be illegally dumped, or it might leak from broken pipes and other sewer system infrastructure. ##### Wastewater pollutants + [Common water contaminants](https://publiclab.org/wiki/common-water-contaminants): wiki with info on contaminant, potential sources, methods, and how to address the problem ### Methods to monitor wastewater On Public Lab’s methods page, you can see methods related to: Wastewater Turbidity Stormwater Water quality #### Detecting possible wastewater pollution Lots of information (in English and Spanish) about what to look for in the comments of this question: [What are some observable tell-tale signs of wastewater pollution?](https://publiclab.org/questions/bhamster/07-28-2021/what-are-some-observable-tell-tale-signs-of-wastewater-pollution) Check out the wiki page below on different methods for detecting wastewater pollution: [nodes:grid:detecting-wastewater-method] On that page, you’ll find information on monitoring some water quality characteristics that could indicate wastewater pollution: + Water color or clarity + Odor + Water temperature + Conductivity + Indicator chemicals or components ### Activities Activities on Public Lab that have been tagged with `activity:wastewater` will appear here [activities:wastewater] ## Regulations, policy, and advocacy ### US federal regulations + **National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)**, part of the US Clean Water Act: under the NPDES program, “EPA regulates discharges of pollutants from municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants, sewer collection systems, and stormwater discharges from industrial facilities and municipalities” (from [EPA website](https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/water-enforcement)) + Read more about the NPDES regulations here: [https://publiclab.org/wiki/npdes](https://publiclab.org/wiki/npdes) + What’s news: “[EPA announces intent to strengthen limits on water pollution from power plants](https://www.wwdmag.com/industrial-water/epa-announces-intent-strengthen-limits-water-pollution-power-plants),” from _Water & Wastes Digest_, July 2021. ### State and local regulations + Information about wastewater discharge and stormwater regulations in Colorado on the [Colorado Regulations Hotsheet](https://publiclab.org/notes/gretchengehrke/10-28-2016/colorado-regulations-hotsheet#Effluent+Turbidity) + [Hudson Riverkeeper teaches how to report Gowanus pollution](https://publiclab.org/notes/liz/03-06-2014/hudson-riverkeeper-teaches-how-to-report-gowanus-pollution), by @liz + What’s news: Washington State Department of Ecology is [drafting up a general permit to limit nutrients that domestic wastewater treatment plants](https://ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits/Permits-certifications/Nutrient-Permit) release into Puget Sound. Nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen come to treatment facilities in household wastewater, and too much negatively impacts water quality. ### International regulations _Please share more here!_ ### Advocacy In general, how can community members take action on wastewater pollution? [nodes:grid:wastewater-advocacy] ## Further reading and resources + [Wastewater basics 101 slide presentation](https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2015-06/documents/epa-mou_wastewater_basics_101.pdf) from the US EPA (it’s pretty technical) + [Greater Lansing Regional Committee for Stormwater Management](https://www.mywatersheds.org/) website has tons of information about stormwater and what community members can do to reduce pollution entering storm sewer systems. ### Wikis Wiki pages related to wastewater [wikis:wastewater] ## Next step challenges + Collectively create a “hotsheet” of local/regional stormwater pollution reporting numbers + Spectrometry methods for wastewater: + Determining spectral signatures of wastewater pollution so different forms of contamination can be detected in real time with a DIY spectrometer + There are some developments on spectrometry methods linked [here on the detecting wastewater pollution wiki](https://publiclab.org/wiki/detecting-wastewater#%3Cstrong%3ESpectrometry+methods+for+wastewater:+a+grab+bag%3C/strong%3E) + Modifying spectrometers: + Modifying a DIY spectrometer into a fluorometer for detecting optical brighteners in stormwater outfalls (possibly as a follow up to [this activity](https://publiclab.org/notes/alejobonifacio/08-04-2021/como-detectar-abrillantadores-opticos-aguas-residuales-yendo-a-un-rio-how-to-detect-optical-brighteners-wastewater-going-to-a-river)?) + Modifying a DIY spectrometer into a luminometer for measuring light output from bio- or chemiluminescence assays of sampled water. + Bioindicators and biological tests of wastewater: + Replicate [this activity](https://publiclab.org/notes/alejobonifacio/09-03-2021/como-evaluar-la-calidad-de-un-rio-con-insectos-acuaticos-bioindicadores-how-do-i-assess-the-quality-of-an-river-with-aquatic-insects-bioindicators) on counting aquatic invertebrates as indicators of water quality, test it at different sites. + Develop and test a DIY [bioluminescence inhibition assay](https://publiclab.org/wiki/bioassay#Bioluminescence+inhibition+assay) on wastewater samples + Methods that help enable recycling of biosolids that result from wastewater treatment: + At wastewater treatment facilities, identifying and isolating harmful chemicals that won’t break down and would otherwise end up back in the environment from biosolids recycling. For example, [PFASs](https://www.tpomag.com/editorial/2019/08/whats-to-be-done-about-pfas-in-wastewater-and-biosolids-here-are-two-perspectives-on-the-issue) (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), commonly used to make surfaces nonstick or water repellent. (Idea from @jesseslone) ...

Author Comment Last activity Moderation
alejobonifacio "Hi again @Ag8n! I've just read again the Research Paper Chandler, D. M., & Lerner, D. N. (2015). A low cost method to detect polluted surface w..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
alejobonifacio "Wow! How interesting all the information generated from a question! Congratulations @bhamster for the excellent question. I congratulate everyone w..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
alejobonifacio "Hi @Ag8n !!! I am very happy that the project liked to you. I do not know if these kind of UV lamp (sterilizer) be more sensitive to optical bright..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "Another answer to the original question from someone at 500 Women Scientists, with experience in microbiology: "I don’t know if there is a single ..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
jesseslone "@Ag8n I think part of the answer to fertilizer might be efficient recycling of wastewater and the treatment byproducts, like biosolids. For exampl..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
Ag8n "It was believed to be high level of nitrates, although maybe the time applied and amount applied has a major part in it, too. To be honest, I think..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "Yikes, sorry to hear about this @Ag8n. What's enabling the problem to spread east? Visible detection with satellite imagery is exactly the kind of..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "This is incredibly helpful, thank you! Some kind of visual to help diagnose treatment plant issues would be great. Maybe we can start brainstorming..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
Ag8n "Very good project! With the corona virus, many uvc flashlights have become cheaply available. That would add some danger to the project. But wou..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
Ag8n "Some very good points! Thank you for the information. My major concern around northern Ohio has always been nitrate run off from fertilizers. Fe..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
jesseslone "One additional note about algae formation. It's not uncommon to have high algae formation even in untouched waters. I have been backpacking in Co..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
jesseslone "Yes, properly treated wastewater should ideally smell like a forrest stream... clean and possibly a little earthy. Also, I should note that my exp..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "@jesseslone Thanks for coming by Open Call yesterday! I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about this question? You mentioning that treated waste..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
alejobonifacio "Wow! This is so interesting... Thanks for tagging me @bhamster! :hugs: " | Read more » about 2 years ago
newwayre "we are real estate company dubai, we provides you the facilities of selling your property in a good rate. #1 real estate company in dubai. https://..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "That would be terrific, thank you! @alejobonifacio, tagging you in case you're interested in sensors for redox potential and dissolved oxygen. " | Read more » about 2 years ago
jesseslone "Yes, those spikes are aeration. Later I dropped the DO sensor and used ORP to control the aeration cycles. Nutrient removal is always a game of d..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "Oooh this is very cool. Super clear dashboard graphs! Are those tall spikes when the water was aerated? And yes, it'd be great if you could join a..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
jesseslone "Yes, it did end up correlating. I looked back over this article and realized I should probably post a follow up. As expected, you start to get a ..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "Thanks for the reply and willingness to answer my questions @jesseslone! I was wondering--did the DO and ORP readings end up correlating with bacte..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
jesseslone "I'm not using it currently, but it ran for a long time unattended. Let me know if you have any other questions, I'm happy to answer them. " | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "Hi @jesseslone. This post is a few years old now, but I was curious if you're still using this sensor? Thanks! " | Read more » about 2 years ago
bhamster "Thanks to all who joined this call! Looking forward to continuing the conversation 💙 Notes from the call and all the links shared in the Zoom chat..." | Read more » about 2 years ago
denissebn_06 "I will be attending! " | Read more » about 2 years ago