Going Green: Constructed wetlands
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Here's what many people think of when you say wastewater treatment system: the traditional film reactor or the more modern, very productive, sequential batch reactor. However, both are more expensive to operate than this reactor; a constructed wetlands.
Now these constructed wetlands are more valuable for another reason. They remove pharmaceutical compounds from the wastewater.
“Pharmaceutical compounds are a (fairly) newly discovered problem in wastewater systems and they can have extreme biological effects because they are pharmaceutical compounds. Things like Ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Advil or acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol are extremely toxic to organisms such as frogs, fish and so forth,” said Dr. Christopher Nomura, ESF.
Another pharmaceutical showing up in wastewater is the active ingredient in birth control pills but the researchers have found that the wetlands are doing something the other two treatment systems can't.
“They basically flow water through these wetlands and through the action of microbial communities and as well as some phytoremediation on these wetlands they're capable of removing a lot of compounds from the water,” said Nomura.
The initial test results are very encouraging; a test of ibuprofen going in and ibuprofen coming out showed just one run through the system produced a 32-percent reduction.
“This is without putting any energy in or anything else. We think with further treatments we're going to be able to reduce that number down to zero or a 100 percent removal of that compound,” said Nomura.
These wetlands consist of three cells, two to eight feet deep, 200 feet by 100 feet, built at a one percent pitch to move the wastewater through the system by gravity with phragmites to help clean the water.
“We think that once this gets set up, it's a system that can be used across New York State or even across the world. As I mentioned, it's a low-energy solution so even third world countries could implement these types of wetlands for some of their wastewater treatment,” said Nomura.