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Removal of Total Organic Carbon from Drinking Water Supplies - Part 2


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Evaluations of TOC reductions at Kirksville, MO; Clinton, MO; and Bloomington, IL serve to illustrate some of the effective, as well as some relatively ineffective, water treatment techniques. In some circumstances, Enhanced Coagulation as well as Granular Activated Carbon appear to be among the latter group.



John O'Connor

Total Organic Carbon

Posted by John O'Connor Nov 25, 2011



Removal of Total Organic Carbon from Drinking Water Supplies - Part 1TOC Northern MO.jpgTotal Organic Carbon in Northern Missouri Public Water Supplies, 1980 and 1989.


Regulations requiring the removal of a portion of naturally-occurring organic carbon compounds from drinking water supplies have created new, and sometimes difficult, challenges for many water utilities.


Part 1 of the attached technical review considers the composition of total organic carbon, its measurement, and USEPA regulations governing its removal. Data is provided on TOC concentrations in Missouri and Illinois drinking waters derived from various water sources.

To paraphrase Sir Winston: Never -- in the history -- of the human race -- have so many words been written -- about so little.


Even so, it would be foolhardy to be overly complacent regarding our widespread utilization of those extraordinary new compounds that we regularly ingest  -- and, much of which, we excrete.

Where does one look when one has used up most of their potable water supply?  The sewer, of course.


Throughtout the U.S. today, entrepreneurs are feverishly developing those capital and energy-intensive modules that promise to turn the water you are discarding into an attractive resource ' as pure as distilled water ...'


We take a peek at the water of tomorrow in a slide show entitled, Wastewater Reclamation, Recovery, and Reuse.

John O'Connor

Stream Biomonitoring

Posted by John O'Connor May 28, 2011

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Pigs are interesting and seemingly rather cute. However, for their unfortunate role in transmitting diseases to those ignorant of the means for protecting themselves from pathogens, they earned a bad reputation early on. From Leviticus 11:7, the dietary laws of Judaism forbade the eating of pork in any form, condemning the pig as an unclean animal. The eating of pork is also prohibited in Islam, among Seventh-day Adventists, and in some other Christian denominations. Statistics aren’t available, but McDonald’s probably doesn’t sell many bacon cheeseburgers in the regions where these views are firmly held. (Fries with that?)


Still, it would seem pigs must be worth something. Each year, our porcine imports from Europe and the Orient are cultivated by the millions on nutritious U.S. feed (about 4 pounds of grain per pound of pig) until they weigh about 250 pounds. Pigs are culled after only six months and sold for about $150 per belly. (Actually, they are sold by the pound, e.g., $60 per hundredweight. This metric more accurately reflects what is really in store for today’s new, low-fat, genetically-manipulated porker.)


When one thinks about it, for all the care administered to the development of the young piglets in their computer-controlled incubators and communal macro-environments, one might conclude that a live six-month-old pig really doesn’t have any value. After all, it is not going to be lovingly cared for in a home (or yard) and taken for visits to the vet until it dies of old age. Instead, it is on its way to becoming someone’s lunch. Big chunks of it will be stored in someone’s freezer.


About a decade ago, we started learning something about pigs or, more precisely, their waste discharges when the intensity of their production resulted in problems and concerns for north central Missouri streams.


Thomas L. O’Connor and John T. O’Connor

Stream Biomonitoring Assesses the Impact of Large-Scale Livestock Production

      Water Engineering and Management, Vol. 146, No. 10, October, 1999.

John O'Connor

Methane in Ground Water

Posted by John O'Connor May 18, 2011

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C & EN has reported (Methane Fouls Well Water, May 16, 2011) the results of a study linking the hydraulic fracturing of organic-rich shale deposits to the contamination of residential well water supplies.


Although unrelated to the current controversy over fracking, some of the issues raised brought to mind the decades-long series of studies that have been conducted with respect to the treatment of methane-bearing ground water supplies in Illinois. A review of this work was presented in Water Engineering and Management in 1999.


Control of Water Quality Deterioration in Water Distribution Systems:

Part 1. Presence of Methane in Illinois Well Water Supplies

Part 2. Removal of Methane at Normal, Illinois

Part 3. Studies of Methane Removal by Aeration

Part 4. Alternatives for Removal of Microbial Nutrients

Water Engineering and Management, Vol. 146, Nos. 3-6, March-June, 1999.

This is the story of an individual effort to reduce household electrical energy consumption, primarily through conservation and elimination of waste. Over a period of seven years, Tom has systematically reduced his electrical energy usage by 80%. His efforts have become a very popular topic locally, as people are interested in knowing how he is actually achieving these reductions. Obviously, he is not keeping it secret.


And yes, Tom does have a wife.


This slide presentation was prepared for the March 29, 2011 annual meeting of the Missouri Section, American Water Works Association. Although specific to the waterworks industry, many ACS members focussing on sustainability for municipal and industrial water systems might be interested in such work -- and might be willing to add their additional insight.


Specific energy use and carbon emission data are given for a 4 mgd water treatment system in western Missouri. Of special interest are the results of an energy audit of the facility that revealed billing anomalies from the the local power utility.


As always, we invite and welcome your comments.


In 1972, along with a graduate student assistant, I undertook a study of the removal of arsenic from drinking water. We focussed on the adsorption of arsenic (V) on aluminum and ferric hydroxides largely because this was consistent with the treatment provided in most conventional water treatment plants.


At the time, since the MCL for arsenic was set at 50 micrograms per liter and there were no well-established, widely-available chemical means for determining arsenic in drinking water at or below such concentrations, there were also no reported violations of the arsenic drinking water standard in the U.S.


To oversome analytical difficulties, the study employed an arsenic radiotracer. This allowed a quick and reproducible assessment of the removal of arsenic by orders of magnitude.


The results of the studies, published in the Journal of the American Water Works Association in 1973, showed that arsenic could be readily removed to a high degree (> 90%) by conventional dosages of both iron and aluminum coagulants. Iron precipitates were found to be particularly effective in adsorbing or co-precipitating arsenic.


With the development of advanced analytical capabilities, the issue of arsenic in drinking water had reemerged on the national and world scenes in dramatic fashion by the year 2000, leading both to modification of regulations and a renewed search for arsenic removal methods.


The attached series on Arsenic in Drinking Water examines some of the developments that occurred after the health effects of arsenic in drinking water were assessed.

Copper Corrosion Problem in Household Plumbing: A Case Study


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Beginning in March 2001, the City of Kearney, Missouri, began receiving reports of leaks in household plumbing. Over succeeding months, owners of at least sixteen homes reported the development of pinhole leaks in copper piping. The majority of the homes affected were in a localized subdivision where homes were on the order of 10 to 14 years old.

A common feature of the reported leaks was that they occurred almost exclusively in the copper lines used in recirculating hot water systems. Cold water lines were generally not affected, although one homeowner reported the need to also replace cold water lines.


Damage to those homes experiencing leakage was significant owing to the pinpoint spray in spaces hidden by drywall or ceiling.


Questions were raised about the nature of the pipe failures, the plumbing methods used, and the quality of the copper pipe used. Questions were also raised about the quality of the water delivered by the City of Kearney. Was it corrosive to copper and, if so, what remedial steps could be taken to reduce the rate of corrosion in the future?


The engineering report is available in the two attached pdfs.

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Since refrigerators often come with houses and last for decades, it can be a major household event when a truly brand new unit arrives. When this finally occurred, the opportunity to compare the water issuing from our new filtered water dispenser with our local tap water was irresistible.


What kind of ‘filter’ adds particles to water?

Although the organisms appeared more rapidly than I expected, the presence of bacteria in the water dispensed by my new refrigerator was predictable. It is well-known that carbon, a reducing agent, readily consumes chlorine. It is this absence of chlorine that consumers cite as their perception that the water quality (taste) has improved. In the absence of a disinfectant residual, bacterial growth will occur.

Most of us have some appreciation of the technical advances achieved in human waste disposal over the past two centuries, but what does the future hold?


Even now, the future is unfolding. Engineers and business interests have recognized that, in our most water-stressed regions, the sewage treatment plants end up with most of the water. -- only, as the old joke goes, 'It ain't all water'.


A Brief (Illustrated) History of Human Waste Disposal -- and its possible future.

Part 1. Cesspits & Outhouses
Part 2. Toilets & Water Carriage

Part 3. Sewerage
Part 4. Sewage Treatment

Part 5. Wastewater Treatment
Part 6. The Future: Wastewater Reclamation
(attached pps)

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We continue to clean up the language of waste disposal as well as the wastes themselves.

Sanitary Engineers have been elevated to Environmental Engineers.

Sewage Lagoons smell better as Oxidation Ponds.

Sewage Sludges have morphed into less threatening Biosolids.

Co-mingled with a ever-increasing diversity of waste products, sewage now emerges as, simply, wastewater.


Can you think of other examples of the sanitation of the language of human waste management?


A Brief (Illustrated) History of Human Waste Disposal -- and its possible future.

Part 1. Cesspits & Outhouses
Part 2. Toilets & Water Carriage

Part 3. Sewerage
Part 4. Sewage Treatment

Part 5. Wastewater Treatment (attached pps)
Part 6. The Future: Wastewater Reclamation



Part 4. Sewage Treatment is my favorite part of this series. In it, you will find a classic collection of 44 black-and-white images from glass slides (circa 1940s). This was a period when 'sewage' still existed and sewage treatment in the U.S. was still in its infancy. Decades more would pass before collection systems and treatment works permeated the rural interior of our nation.


Overall, this review is a visual reminder of just how recent sewage collection and treatment is in our history. A large share of U.S. systems today are barely 50 years old.



          Have you ever seen coagulated sewage?

          Using today's standards, how many OSHA violations can you detect from the photos?

          Have you ever used, or even seen, a  glass Imhoff cone?

          Are you familiar with the once widely used measure of 'relative stability?'


A Brief (Illustrated) History of Human Waste Disposal -- and its possible future.

Part 1. Cesspits & Outhouses
Part 2. Toilets & Water Carriage

Part 3. Sewerage
Part 4. Sewage Treatment
(attached pps)
Part 5. Wastewater Treatment
Part 6. The Future: Wastewater Reclamation

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Widespread construction of sanitary sewers is a comparatively recent technological advance. Most sewerage in the U.S. has been installed after 1960. Even more surprising is the early opposition to sewerage as 'municipal socialism'.


A Brief (Illustrated) History of Human Waste Disposal -- and its possible future.

Part 1. Cesspits & Outhouses
Part 2. Toilets & Water Carriage

Part 3. Sewerage
(attached pps)
Part 4. Sewage Treatment
Part 5. Wastewater Treatment
Part 6. The Future: Wastewater Reclamation