UK Water Regulations

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UK Water Regulations

UK Water Regulations and UK 2024 Election

June 14, 2024

UK Water Regulations and UK 2024 Election

Will the 2024 UK Election Force Changes in Water Regulations?

Every few years, people in most countries have a chance to influence how their country is governed and run. It’s called democracy, and in 2024, both the UK and the US get a chance to go to the polls.

Of course, how much you believe elections can make a positive change depends on a few factors: the country you live in, your political leanings, and what you think of politicians generally …

Can the UK elections drive changes in water regulations?

Are Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) Chemicals on the Agenda?

The sad truth is that hardly anyone in power (or seeking power) seems to appreciate is one of the worst disasters the world has ever faced is right around the corner. And that is the state of our oceans and an impending shortage of fresh water. That’s right, water – a basic commodity necessary for life – is in short supply in many parts of the world, and the situation is worsening rapidly.

In the UK, only The Green Party have made mention of the current state of the water industry in their manifesto whilst ‘across the pond’ in the US, the current administration has been spending massively on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law renewal plan with over 56,000 projects in progress or planned, including many water system renewals. Come November, this could all change, of course.

The sad truth is that day by day, week by week we are increasingly poisoning the sea by pouring billions of litres of polluted water into the sewers and watercourses. This is being accelerated by global warming, population growth and increased urbanization.

The reasons for this are manifold; but primarily, regulators worldwide don’t seem to be aware of the risks of some of the Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemicals being produced as part of modern manufacturing processes, or even how these products can be removed from wastewater. But we’ll come to that later.

The Water Industry Challenge

To see why most of the world’s watercourses and oceans are in such a parlous state, we need to take a step back and look at how the water industry evolved and the current state of water supply and removal worldwide.

In the 1870s one of the first systems to filter sewage was instigated near London, England and soon after, the principles of biological sewerage treatment were becoming broadly understood. Further advances took place quite quickly and in 1912 the first activated sludge WWTP (wastewater treatment plant) was established.

The wastewater treated was a combination of human waste, runoff from storm drains and increasingly, wastewater from industry. Since then, the basic techniques of oxidation and biological aeration together with mechanical filters to remove debris have become the de facto method to treat municipal wastewater.

As manufacturing grew and became more sophisticated, many new chemicals were developed to aid processes or to create new products. In addition, advanced manufacturing processes created more wastewater often heavily-laden with poisonous by-products.

Many WWTPs were operated by municipalities, and some still are to this day, although this varies by country. In twentieth century Europe especially, underinvestment led to a situation where Victorian water distribution and sewer networks were working at capacities far beyond their designers’ specifications, and for much longer than intended.

In the latter part of the twentieth century and in the early years of the 2000s, the growth of pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, plastics, and petrochem, plus the general growth in world population, led to vastly increased manufacturing – and thus increased water demand.

Protecting our oceans from toxic chemicals should be high on the agenda!

An Increasing Demand for Water

In the last 70 years, industrialization has led to a substantial increase in toxic chemicals in wastewater – and finally regulators started taking notice.

Most municipal and local WWTPs still didn’t completely remove these pollutants. And in many areas, the responsibility for cleaning up wastewater was passed to manufacturing. After all, it was argued, they were getting the benefit of limitless quantities of fresh water, so they should play their part cleaning it up. Fair enough, but many unseen (and at the time undiscovered) chemicals were still unaffected by in-house treatment.

This brings us up to the present, where current discharge regulations (varying by country) often mean that manufacturing companies need to spend considerable amounts treating water onsite before discharge. Some even pay to tanker it away to specialist incineration sites where it is boiled off and the resultant solid residue burned – hardly a green process!

Making literally anything today requires frightening amounts of water. Now we’re in a situation where:

• A smartphone takes nearly 13,000 litres of water to make;

• A set of four car tyres takes 7,800 litres of water to manufacture;

• To grow the cotton for one T shirt requires 2,700 litres of water;

• Baking a loaf of bread together with growing and shipping its ingredients requires 650 litres of water.

How Clean is Water Following Water Treatment?

The issue with treating industrial wastewater onsite (often using a combination of ‘legacy’ methods like granular activated carbon, anaerobic digestion, reverse osmosis and ozone treatment) is that although many chemicals are removed to comply with local regulations, a comparatively large amount may not be. And these are often the most dangerous PBT chemicals.

1. It’s been proven that discharged antibiotics (either from incomplete metabolization in humans and animals or from manufacturing) are the reason for AMR (antimicrobial resistance) meaning less effective medications for everyone.

2. Endocrine disruptors contained in other medicines like steroids, hormone replacements and contraceptives have been proven to be very harmful to marine life.

3. Several classes of PFAS (the so-called ‘Forever Chemicals’) will finally be banned by the EU and the UK due to health risks. In the US in April 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared two widely used PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Exposure to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been linked to cancers, impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children.

Those are just three examples of many PBTs that conventional ‘legacy’ water treatments struggle to remove. And there are many more – all contained in water that is currently passing straight through most WWTPs – and ending up poisoning our watercourses, rivers and oceans.

For instance, there are nearly 15,000 types of PFAS, so banning a few of the more common ones is (literally) a drop in the ocean …

Fortunately, it isn’t quite the doomsday scenario that it appears to be. In the last ten years, a new generation of water treatments has been introduced, specifically to remove a whole swathe of recalcitrant compounds from water.

New Wastewater Treatment Technology

The ‘new’ technology is electrochemistry. Although knowledge of the technique has been around for several hundred years – earliest experiments date as far back as the sixteenth century – the technique has recently come to predominance due to developments in electrode science.

Nowadays, electrochemical systems are showing the best results with a wide variety of PBTs, finding applications in:

• Agrochemicals
• Life sciences
•Waste management
•Speciality chemicals
•Battery recycling

Whilst existing water treatments like filtration, reverse osmosis, and ozone treatment will still do the ‘heavy lifting’ and remove most of what we now consider to be the conventional wastewater pollutants, an electrochemical treatment system will remove many PBTs down to below measurable levels.

In most installations, an electrochemical system is best suited to working in conjunction with conventional water treatment systems to ‘polish’ the water. As an alternative, it can be used in sidechains to pre-condition water to aid the efficiency of other treatment processes.

Water Treatment Innovation

A development of this electrochemical system developed by Arvia in the UK is specifically designed to remove recalcitrant organic compounds. This unique system takes two Best Available Technique (BAT) technologies – adsorption and oxidation – and combines them in a patented single step process. This single combined process results in far greater efficiencies than the separated technologies alone.

Here’s how it works: First organic pollutants are adsorbed onto patented Nyex™ conductive media, concentrating them in one place. Then, electrochemistry is used to oxidise the contaminant. The applied current also regenerates the surface of the Nyex media to enable ongoing treatment without interruption.

The Lack of Water Regulation

Finally, we need to consider that many parts of the world are suffering from severe water shortages. Currently Southern Europe and Asia are seeing the worst of it, but many more countries are under threat. What that means is more water needs to be re-used and recycled. But this cannot happen until much more water is made suitable for reuse.

And that brings us back to the issue of regulation. Or rather the lack of it. Because until regulation catches up with the reality of the science, very few commercial organisations are going to want to invest in advanced water treatment unless they’re obliged to.

Of course, as one of the leaders in electrochemical water treatment you’d expect us to have this view. But the last ten years has shown us that more and more recalcitrant pollutants in wastewater are responsible for so much of the damage to our rivers, watercourses and oceans – yet most regulators have done nothing about it!

Although a change in regulations would benefit the water treatment industry short-term, the long-term benefit to the world’s supply of fresh water (and by implication, the human race as a whole) is a far more important goal.

So as we watch the campaigning and catcalling both sides of the Atlantic, let’s bear in mind that although wars, economic trends, world health and global warming are real threats, the unmentioned threat of water scarcity and the pollution of the oceans is really what we should all be concerned about.

Arvia Technology is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electrochemical water treatment and processing systems. With its HQ, R&D and manufacturing base in Cheshire, UK, it also has facilities in China, India and is expanding into the US.

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Our wastewater treatment expertise

Our water technology can be used to treat a variety of water treatment applications. Once we understand the nature of your wastewater and your final water quality target, our water treatment specialists can make recommendations as to how best to treat your water. Take a look at some of the Nyex applications here:

Our industrial wastewater treatment technologies use a patented combination of adsorption and electrochemical oxidation.