Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems

Aug. 27, 2002
undefined

The following is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Special Issues Fact Sheet on Water Softeners. This document supports the WQA's position on softener wastes and the fact that they are not harmful to septic systems. Home water softeners, which periodically generate a backwash that is high in sodium, magnesium and calcium concentrations, can affect wastewater treatment processes, the composition and structure of the infiltration field biomat and the underlying soil. However, attempts to predict whether impacts will occur and to estimate their severity are difficult and often inconclusive.

Water softeners remove 'hardness' (dissolved calcium and magnesium) through ion exchange processes. Incoming hard water passes through a tank of high-capacity ion exchange resin beads supersaturated with sodium. The calcium and magnesium ions in the water attach to the resin beads, replacing the sodium, which is released into the water. The softened water then is distributed for use throughout the house.

Over time, the ion exchange resin beads become saturated with calcium and magnesium ions. When this occurs, the tank must be recharged by flushing with a salt brine solution. Sodium ions reclaim their position on the resin beads, and the calcium and magnesium ions are released into the backwash water. The backwash water then exits the tank and is discharged to the wastewater treatment system. The number of times the tank is recharged and the amount of wastewater generated depends on a number of factors including the hardness of the water, amount of water used, size of the water softener and capacity of the resins to remove calcium and magnesium.

The wastewater generated during the recharge phase of the water softening process mixes with other household wastewaters, enters the septic tank and eventually moves to the soil adsorption field. Studies conducted by soil scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the National Sanitation Foundation conclude that the wastewater effluent generated from properly operating and well-maintained water softeners will not harm onsite systems that are designed, operated and maintained appropriately. Specifically, the studies conclude the following.

- High concentrations of calcium and manganese in the softener backwash water have no deleterious effect on the biological functions occurring in the septic tank and may, in some cases, be helpful.

- The additional volume of wastewater generated (typically about 50 gallons per recharge cycle) is added slowly to the wastewater stream and does not cause any hydraulic overload problems.

- Soil structure in the soil absorption field is positively affected by the calcium and magnesium ions in water softener effluent.2

Regarding the last conclusion, some people have the misconception that the salt brine that enters the ion exchange tank also exits the tank as wastewater. In fact, the influent with its high concentration of sodium ions is very different than the effluent, which has a high concentration of calcium and magnesium ions. Consequently, the potential for chemical clogging of clayey soil by sodium ions is reduced. The calcium and magnesium input may even help improve soil percolation.

Risk Management Issues

The human health impacts of ingesting softened water increasingly are discussed in addition to the traditional benefits of reduced use of surfactants and plumbing repair requirements. The choice of the homeowner to soften or not to soften will factor into all arguments. Also, the preceding descriptions are predicated on whole-house-supply softening. Today point-of-use devices designed for use with specific features in the house make the traditional advantages and disadvantages less clear.

Download: Here

Sponsored Recommendations

Get Utility Project Solutions

June 13, 2024
Lightweight, durable fiberglass conduit provides engineering benefits, performance and drives savings for successful utility project outcomes.

Energy Efficient System Design for WWTPs

May 24, 2024
System splitting with adaptive control reduces electrical, maintenance, and initial investment costs.

Meeting the Demands of Wastewater Treatment Plants

May 24, 2024
KAESER understands the important requirements wastewater treatment plant designers and operators consider when evaluating and selecting blowers and compressed air equipment. In...

Modernize OT Cybersecurity to Mitigate Risk

April 25, 2024
Rockwell Automation supports industry-leading Consumer Packaged Goods company, Church & Dwight, along their industrial cybersecurity journey.