How Does Wastewater Affect the Environment: 4 Facts

Wastewater is everywhere, starting from the water that runs down your shower drain to the runoff coming down wet roads. Nevertheless, many countries benefit from an advanced wastewater treatment technology. This technology treats the water and eliminates every contaminant from it, like chemicals or sewage. However, many of us are wondering how does wastewater affect the environment.

The wastewater technologies are extremely important for us, for the natural world. Every day, wastewater pollutes both saltwater and freshwater sources due to inefficient wastewater treatment technology. The U.S. EPA indicates that about 1.2 trillion gallons of wastewater coming from industrial and household sources contaminates the nation’s water on an annual basis.

Besides the fact that all this wastewater destabilizes marine life, but it also affects humans. That is why the wastewater treatment technology is crucial. Otherwise, contaminated water would reach fresh water sources and this material would end up in our homes. At the same time, numerous areas in the world confronted with water scarcity. Hence, for them, clean water is extremely important. The wastewater that gets discharged on dry lands can reach underground water tables, contaminating them.

How Does Wastewater Affect the Environment

Unfortunately, in developing countries, wastewater is directly pumped into freshwater bodies or sea, without using a treatment system. In other parts of the world, the lack of adequate wastewater treatment infrastructure and sometimes outdated systems jeopardize the treatment efforts. That is why wastewater can have various dangerous effects on different ecosystems.

Water pollution

Wastewater reaches marine waters and also freshwater sources, polluting them. Hence, these waters become unsafe for human or animal use. Depending on the chemicals that get discharged, wastewater can severely harm the aquatic life.

Water security

Since many countries in the world have to deal with water scarcity, wastewater may even affect the limited sources of freshwater they have. Sometimes, people discharge large quantities of wastewater on lands. They can easily penetrate the soil, reaching underground water tables. Furthermore, they may also pollute underground water and aquifers. Hence, many water sources are later categorized as unsuitable for use.

Agriculture, tourism, fisheries

If farmers use wastewater to irrigate their crops, this might severely contaminate the production with lots of chemicals and high concentrations of nutrients. All this contaminated water can delay the development of the crops. Furthermore, some farmers also us wastewater for animal farming. The chemicals dissolved in that water can affect animals’ immune system, and there is a high probability that they may die.

If they do not die, wastewater contaminates their meat and other animal products, like milk from cows. Hence, if we consume such products, we may as well be harmed. Another terrible fact about wastewater and how it contaminates fresh water is that many farmers discharge fecal sewage into the sea. All this sewage contains dissolved chemicals and pathogens that would disrupt the fishing area.

Besides the fact that fishermen can catch contaminated marine creatures, like fish and squids, the smell would be unbearable. Therefore, this will not only affect the fisheries, but also the tourism in the area. Visitors would be unwilling to visit such areas knowing that the only thing they could see is contaminated water. Apart from the smell of the sewage that gets into the water, there is also the smell of dead marine creatures in the contaminated water that can get repulsive. Hence, tourists would be unable to buy some fresh fish or some fresh seafood.

Population’s health

Wastewater transports a lot of bacteria and illnesses that could also disrupt human health. Statistics show that 2.2 million people die at a global level every year due to diarrhoeal disease. In 2008, WHO indicates that 1.8 million kids under the age of 5 die on an annual basis because of water-related illnesses.

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Yellow wastewater getting dumped

Wastewater does not only affect marine creatures, but also crops, humans and farm animals.

Types of wastewater

Specialists indicate that wastewater comes in three different types, namely Yellow water, Graywater, and Blackwater.

Yellow water

This type of wastewater represents urine which gets collected with certain channels, without being contaminated with greywater or blackwater.


This wastewater comes from food fixtures and non-toilet like bathtubs, spas, laundry machines, bathroom sinks and other sources. Basically, this is sewage which does not contain urine or fecal matter. Specialists treat Graywater very differently than they do with Blackwater. Graywater is usually appropriate for re-use.


Blackwater is wastewater which comes from dishwashers, food preparation sinks, and toilet fixtures. This type of sewage contains almost everything that goes in your sink, bath and toilets drain. It includes fecal matter, urine, wipes, body cleaning liquids and toilet paper. Blackwater is highly contaminated containing dissolved chemicals, pathogens and particulate matter.

Wastewater sources

Generally, wastewater is of 2 types, namely domestic sewage and non-sewage.

Domestic sewage

This accounts for the wastewater coming from apartments, hospitals and health centers, sports stadiums, places of worship, schools, resorts, motels, restaurants, hotels, public restrooms and home dwellings. All these generate high volumes of wastewater.


Non-sewage wastewater is water coming cleaning centers, car garages, swimming pools, runoff, and floods. This source of wastewater also includes energy generation plants, commercial kitchens, beauty salons and laundromats. Another type of non-sewage source is the water that farmers use to clean animal farms, farm equipment or harvested produce.

Wastewater treatment – Primary treatment

The primary treatment used to decontaminate the wastewater presupposes the collecting of suspended and floating solids. Then, the flow from the sewers gets into a screen rack, and specialists remove sticks and rags. Next, the water flows through the grit chamber where they get rid of heavier inorganics, like small stones and sand. After this, the water gets through a sedimentation tank where organic and inorganic solids settle.

Then, specialists use chlorine to disinfect the water. Next, specialists remove the excess of chlorine via dichlorination. Experts use the sewage that remains at the bottom of the sedimentation tank as fertilizer, or it gets incinerated.

Summing up

Learning how does wastewater affect the environment can help us become more aware of the importance of preserving freshwater and saltwater sources. Protecting the environment is what keeps us safe, having clean water sources and less sewage.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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