Wastewater as a Resource for Gathering Community Data

Archaeologists know that rubbish heaps and abandoned outhouses provide insights into ancient cultures. They can learn about diet, health, and daily life in long-forgotten communities.

Today, scientists have discovered the benefits of tracking community data in wastewater. Many health markers travel in human waste products. As they collect data, they find information about the prevalence of diseases, pharmaceuticals, and pollutants in the community. This data provides knowledge about the community’s health and its impact on the local environment.

Data Collection from Sewer Systems and Treatment Plants

Most people consider sewer water something to avoid. The natural aversion to waste products has hidden potential assets in sewage. Water that goes into a municipal sewer system contains compounds and particles processed by human bodies.

Markers of the substances you put into your body come out in your waste products. The liver and kidneys filter out molecules of medications, hormones, and remnants of destroyed viruses and bacteria. By sampling water before it reaches the treatment plant, researchers can learn about the progression of illnesses and illegal and legal drug use patterns.

The Benefits of Wastewater Solid Data

Some communities have already taken advantage of the byproducts of waste treatment. They use treated solids for fertilizer or to generate natural gas. Real-time data about community health is another byproduct growing in importance.

Health and Wellness

Tracking outbreaks was one of the first challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the illness could be deadly for some groups, many people had minor symptoms that didn’t bring them to testing centers. It was difficult to determine if the virus had spread into a community.

Analyzing wastewater was a powerful tool for tracking disease progression. In some cases, medical professionals found evidence of infection in sewer water before any official cases were reported. This real-time data allowed health systems to prepare for COVID flare-ups.

Environmental Responsibility

Industrial plants have strict procedures and guidelines around the pollutants they send into the water supply. Unfortunately, some companies may still find it easier to rinse toxic substances down the drain into the municipal sewer system. Regular testing can identify dangerous substances in the waste. Officials can then track down the polluter and hold them accountable for the cleanup.

Testing can also identify emerging environmental concerns. Beauty products sometimes include plastic microbeads that serve as an exfoliant. When the user rinses off the product, the beads go down the drain. While these plastics don’t seem to harm humans, they may damage microscopic life at the low end of the food chain. Regular testing informs researchers about the amounts of such substances going into the water supply, helping determine environmental priorities.

Challenges to Data Access

When researchers collect public data, it can make residents feel uncomfortable. Data derived from drain water can be helpful, but it also comes with some challenges.

Public Sewers versus Private Septic Systems

Getting a meaningful sample to determine community health requires the proper water infrastructure. While most people in the United States live in communities connected to public sewer systems, there are many areas where homes depend on private underground septic systems. Public health officials won’t have access to information from these sites. This missing data could lead to faulty conclusions.

Privacy Issues

Any data access can be a red flag for people concerned with privacy. Researchers must be careful that the data comes from a large enough pool to maintain anonymity. Samples taken from a sewer main cannot be traced back to an individual building. Data collection from an apartment building’s sewer line may provide too much information about resident behavior.

SCADA and Wastewater Treatment Facilities

Supervisory control and data acquisition technology will have a pivotal role to play in gathering community information through solid wastewater data. A SCADA system involves a collection of sensors that transmit real-time data to a central hub. As health marker detection improves, sensors in the sewer system and wastewater treatment plant will collect data for analysis by researchers. Remote monitoring sensors can perform this function more efficiently and frequently than people in the field. Health officials will quickly have the necessary information to prepare for emergencies and protect the community.

Benefitting from Cloud-Based SCADA

High Tide Technologies specializes in cloud-based SCADA systems for municipal water distribution, collection, and treatment facilities. Our equipment will improve the operation and efficiency of systems by providing easily accessible, real-time performance data. Contact us today for more information on the benefits of cloud-based SCADA for your facility.