The Natural Resources Defense Council urges businesses and consumers to do everything possible to protect the 1 percent of fresh drinking water available. The Council notes the demand for clean water could increase by one-third by the end of the decade. Sadly, industrial activity continues to threaten access to reliably clean drinking water.

Organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continue to mandate corporations to take proactive measures to purify and cleanse water before it trails back into the environment. Those efforts to protect the water supply mean that plant workers will need industry-leading wastewater protective clothing to carry out their duties safely.

What are Common Industrial Water Contamination Settings?

Despite the best efforts of lawmakers and professionals at regulatory agencies, contaminants continue to plague U.S. lakes, rivers, and streams. A recent study focused on contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) uncovered 247 microbiological pollutants across 25 treatment plants.

These contaminants included chemicals routinely used in businesses and industrial landscapes. A significant number of the pollutants are not stringently regulated by government agencies, which creates an uncharted danger for people who work in treatment facilities and manufacturing plants, as they are exposed to unknown chemical and biological toxins.

The following rank among the common ways waste products and dangers impact the water supply and people working in industrial settings.

Forever Chemical Contamination

Forever chemicals are a hot-trending health and safety issue that has gained mainstream media traction. There are reportedly more than 9,000 perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), 600 of which are approved in the U.S. 

These pollutants can be found in firefighting foam, cosmetics, carpet treatments and dental floss. They find their way into the groundwater after being shipped to landfills or used to suppress fires, among others. Upwards of 200 million people have PFAS in their everyday drinking water.

Chemical Spills

Manufacturing plants use an enormous amount of chemicals to produce items and perform cleanups. Too often, poorly stored cleansing liquids and agents used to make products such as household cleaners leak and spill. Some find their way down the proverbial drain and end up at wastewater treatment facilities, while others are processed on-site.

Microbial Contamination

Standing water and other environmental factors can create breeding grounds for microorganisms. Bacteria, viruses, and even parasites can infiltrate the body, wreaking havoc on vital organ functions, immune systems, and overall health and well-being. Stagnant pools present a clear and present danger that few notice, which is why the ongoing use of workwear for wastewater contact is fundamental.

Heavy Metals

The EPA estimates there are approximately 9.2 million water service lines that contain lead. As this and other heavy metals in water lines corrode, community members are exposed to the toxins. It’s also important to keep in mind that contaminated water typically circulates back to the local processing plant, exposing workers.

The X-Factor

Government agencies such as the EPA make every effort to identify and monitor potentially hazardous agents that could negatively impact America’s drinking water. Unfortunately, there are thousands of chemical and biological threats and not every one of them has been identified.

This was the case in 2020 when 13 million people on the East Coast were exposed to a colorless, heterocyclic organic compound called 1,4-Dioxane. The only distinctive trait 1,4-Dioxane has is a faintly sweet aroma.

At the time, no restrictions were placed on how much 1,4-Dioxane could remain in the drinking water. Although how the substance found its way into the Delaware River remains something of a mystery, some believe the hazardous substance was disposed of and slipped through the testing process of an upstream wastewater treatment facility. The levels that were discovered downstream far exceed limits that have been established since the incident.

What’s important to keep in mind is the water coming out of the tap is only as pure as the testing and vigilance performed by people working in wastewater treatment plants across the country.

Industries that Generate Significant Amounts of Wastewater

Organizations that provide necessary resources may also be more prone to release contaminants. People working at nearby treatment plants may be at greater risk of exposure and need wide-reaching types of wastewater protective clothing. These industries are likely to produce industrial wastewater discharge.

  • Mining: Culling metallic ores from the ground can also release iron, copper, lead, and zinc into the environment. These and other elements find their way into rivers, streams, and groundwater. The EPA monitors mining activities to ensure they meet regulatory requirements.
  • Oil and Gas: Shale gas extraction uses tremendous volumes of wastewater in its hydraulic fracturing process. The process, which includes significant levels of salts and impurities, has a reputation for contaminating wells and local drinking water supplies.
  • Breweries: It may come as something of a surprise, but the brewing process produces a substantial amount of wastewater.
  • Dairy: The pasteurization and homogenization processes rely heavily on dissolved sugars, proteins, and fats that end up in wastewater.
  • Pulp & Paper:Mills produce massive amounts of lignocellulosic materials and wastewater during manufacturing. They release chlorinated lignosulphonic acids, chlorinated resin acids, chlorinated phenols and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Upwards of 500 different chlorinated organic compounds have been traced to paper and pulp mills.
  • Food processing:These facilities also release significant quantities of wastewater. Before products can be shipped to markets, processing plants are tasked with cleansing, altering, and packaging. Washing vegetables laced with pesticides and fertilizers tends to create enormous amounts of untreated wastewater. These facilities also use an inordinate number of industrial cleaners, including surfactants.

What are the Health Effects on Industrial Workers?

Plant workers are exposed to everything within the complex and treatment facility employees never know what’s about to run through lines. Items often include household products and industrial chemicals.

Tasked with preventing contaminants from reaching rivers, streams, and the drinking water supply, they encounter hazardous and unknown substances that can negatively affect their health and well-being. When companies fail to provide adequate wastewater protective clothing, these are conditions hard-working people suffer.

  • Respiratory Illness & Lung Disease
  • Skin Rashes, Lesions, and Lingering Conditions
  • Gastrointestinal Issues

When industrial workers are exposed to arsenic during treatment or in their drinking water, internal organs suffer conditions such as melanosis and keratosis. For these reasons, companies must articulate safety regulations to employees and provide protective workwear for wastewater treatment team members.

Best Practices for Preventing Water Contamination

Sanitizing wastewater remains crucial to further the need for access to clean drinking water. That process also needs to be safe for the people who work in industrial facilities and regional wastewater treatment operations. These best practices can reduce the risks these professionals assume every day.

  • Increased Water Testing and Monitoring
  • Mark Non-Potable Water to Warn Employees
  • Craft an In-House Policy to Manage Contaminated Wastewater
  • Ensure Compromised Wastewater is Stored in a Secure Method
  • Treatment Personnel Must Have Access to Wastewater PPE

Staff members likely to come in contact with polluted water, oils, solids, and chemical agents deserve industry-leading disposable personal protective clothing and equipment. A stockpile of chemical splash suits, face shields, safety glasses, goggles, earmuffs and plugs, coveralls with hoods, breathable masks, and accessories such as protective gloves and foot coverings are essential.

The best way to ensure workers have convenient access to essential wastewater protective clothing is to build and maintain an inventory of clothing and accessories.