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<International Source Book On Environmentally Sound Technologies
for Wastewater and Stormwater Management>

4.1.5 Improved on-site treatment units

Improved on-site treatment units refer to treatment units which improve the performance of one of the above on-site systems, for reducing BOD, SS and/or nutrients. Two designs are described to illustrate the main principles used. A principal aim of the improvements is to prevent groundwater pollution or enable water reuse of the treated wastewater on-site. Many designs are available using similar principles. A number of these are described in detail in the Regional Overviews, where these units are used.

Figure 2.22: Inverted trench (Ecomax)

(a) Inverted trench

In the system illustrated in Figure 2.22 the trench of the septic tank is underlain by a plastic or impermeable liner. The liner is filled with sand or a fairly permeable soil. Overflow from the septic tank is introduced at the base of the sand layer. It flows up through the sand layer and flows over into the surrounding soil. The sand layer acts as a slow sand filter, where bacteria growing on the surfaces of the sand particles degrade the organic substances to reduce BOD. Because of the fluctuating flow of wastewater with peak flows in the morning and in the evening, the upper region of the sand layer alternates between aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Under these conditions a significant part of nitrogen in the wastewater can be removed by nitrification (bacterial conversion of ammonium in the wastewater to nitrate under aerobic conditions) and denitrification (bacterial conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas under anaerobic conditions) (See also Section 2 (2.2) on Nitrogen cycle). In addition if materials that can remove phosphate are mixed with the sand, phosphorus in the wastewater is also removed. One material, that has been found to remove phosphate effectively with a capacity for phosphorus removal for several years, is bauxite refining residue (red mud).

Power is required for aeration and pumping. For a system serving a household of up to 10 persons, the power supply rating needed is 100 W (2.5 kWh per day). This on-site unit is a miniature of an activated sludge treatment plant usually used for centralised treatment (4.2.1). One difference is that surfaces are provided in the aeration tank to retain bacteria during peak flows. The other difference is that sludge from the second sedimentation tank is returned to first tank for storage.

An aerated treatment unit consists of a tank similar to a septic tank. The tank is partitioned into four compartments (Figure 2.23). The first compartment receives the wastewater and acts as a sedimentation tank for solids. The overflow from the first compartment goes to an aeration compartment. The aeration compartment is fitted with corrugated plastic sheets to enable bacteria to attach themselves. The aeration supplies oxygen to the bacteria decomposing the organic matter in the wastewater thus reducing its BOD. After aeration the wastewater passes to a third compartment which acts as a second sedimentation tank. Sludge from this second sedimentation tank is pumped to the first compartment for storage. After sedimentation the wastewater overflows to a fourth compartment for storage and pumping, usually for irrigation of garden beds. If required, chlorination is applied by inserting chlorine tablets in the pipe between the third and fourth compartments. Chlorination is required when the treated wastewater is irrigated by sprinklers. Sub-surface irrigation is preferable, because it does not require chlorination.

Figure 2.23: Aerated treatment unit (Biomax)


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