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Inspection Checklists and Risk Assessment Models for Small Wastewater Treatment Systems.

Inspection Checklists and Risk Assessment Models for Small Wastewater Treatment Systems.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Neale Young. Originally submitted for Water Technology at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Prof. Nick Gray in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Neale Young. Originally submitted for Water Technology at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Prof. Nick Gray in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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Inspection Checklists and Risk Assessment Models for SmallWastewater Treatment Systems.
It has been estimated, at the present day, that one third of the Irish population are living inindividual rural dwellings that are not connected to public sewers. When we consider that theaverage person produces 150 litres of domestic wastewater per day, and with so much of thepopulation not been attached to any public wastewater treatment scheme, there is a hugepotential for environmental, ecological and human health catastrophe through thecontamination of surface and groundwater hydrological systems. Domestic wastewater canhave a very devastating contamination effect on receiving water systems via direct dischargeor through the indirect flow of contaminated ground water into such water systems.Contaminants such as Nitrates, Phosphates along with an overall intoxicating BiochemicalOxygen Demand (BOD) within typical domestic wastewaters can be devastating to theecology and health of lakes and rivers, mainly resulting in eutrophication. On a morealarming humanistic level, the contamination of ground and surface water by domesticwastewater systems poses a huge health risk- mainly through pathogen contamination butalso through high levels of other wastewater elements such as nitrates and heavy metals.These health risks are all too possible when contamination of groundwater by untreated orinadequately treated domestic wastewater is returned to the population through the tapping of aquifers for a domestic water supply.The aim of this project is to assess the different options for treating domestic wastewaterusing small treatment systems, construct a complete checklist for the inspection and developa concise risk assessment model of such systems. This may assist in the future use bygovernment bodies (use by Groundwater Protection Schemes and the Water Framework Directive) in the licensing, regulation and maintenance of small wastewater treatmentsystems for the protection of Irelands ground and surface water systems. The project isbroken into two main sections; with two main resultant outputs- The first section covers theconstruction of the inspection checklist relative to the different treatment systems whilecovering the rationale behind the checklist. The second section of the project covers thedevelopment of the risk assessment models for the treatment systems and as above, discussesthe rationale behind the development.
Section 1: Inspection Checklist.
As most domestic wastewater treatment systems do not allow a mechanism for testing thefinal effluent produced and discharged from the system for an inspector to simply sample andassess for appropriate levels of contaminants, a checklist for physical elements that areindicative of proper system performance is a must. However, if there is any opportunity tosample a final effluent discharge it should be taken with gusto- as this will outline directly if the system is performing adequately or not.
The complete Inspection Checklist for Septic Tank/Percolation Area Systems (Figure 1.) andother Small Treatment Systems (Figure 2.) are found on attached pages. The other treatmentsystems that this project focuses on are as follows:
Secondary Treatment Filter Systems.
Constructed Wetlands.
Packaged Wastewater Treat
ment Systems, such as RBC’s and BAF systems.
 Each Checklist also deals with the inspection of any tertiary treatment systems, such aspolishing filters, relevant to the above processes.It is important to note at this point, that this methodology and rationale is considerably basedon the collation, organisation and accumulation of documentation relevant to site assessment,site works, system installation, inspection, pumping, maintenance and system history. Thecorrect use of documentation would be critical for engineers, inspectors or private contractorsin the efficient evaluation of a system or in the diagnosis of a system failure and the properactions to be executed. Through the accumulation of documentation on any action/workscarried out on a small wastewater treatment it will give the potential inspector a head start indeciphering a correct inspection regime or type on a particular system before arriving on-site.For the inspection regime of a traditional septic tank/percolation area system or othersecondary treatment system there are three main elements. The first would be the initialinspection of any systems that were installed previous to the utilisation of this inspectionscheme. The second would be the inspection of systems after the pumping/de-sludging of anytanks which should be carried out every 12 months, if it is necessary for that system. Thisgives the inspector access to inspect the integrity of tanks and pumps more thoroughly whenthe sludge has been removed. The third element of the scheme would be an inspection of thesystem 6 months after pumping to assess the performance and integrity of the system after ithas settled down and it is at normal working capacity.For example, an old septic tank treatment system is to be brought into the inspection scheme.This system will first require an initial site and system inspection (which should be verythorough). If the inspector was able to find the documentation of the installation of thesystem, the site characterisation, possible contamination sources etc., then a just a thoroughsystem investigation will be necessary, followed by the development of an inspection regimefor that system. However, if the system was installed without proper planning ordocumentation, it would be necessary to have an inspector thoroughly assess the conditions,performance and overall adequacy of that system to treat the domestic wastewater andprovide documentation on the findings. A regime can then be developed from the findings,whether site works or a system change/upgrade are necessary or not. Any new systems beinginstalled for new houses can simply have a copy of their site assessment and system sent tothe relative inspector to have as a reference for future inspection visits.It is important to note that any inspections should be carried out in a safe and prudent manner.Inspectors should never work alone, never climb into tanks and always wear protective gearto minimise the risk of pathogen contamination.
Much of the inspection regimes below were developed from the EPA CoD on SmallWastewater Treatment Systems (2010) with further reference to other valuable sources.
Septic Tank/Percolation Area Treatment Systems.
 Initial System Adequacy Inspection.
For the purpose of this project, I will not be discussing the theory or process of characterisingsites or selecting appropriate wastewater treatment systems in any depth, for the main role of this project is to assist in post-installation inspection, maintenance and performance of systems. However, as mentioned above, an initial system adequacy inspection must becarried out for all systems lacking documentation in this respect so that an inspection regimecan be developed. This Initial System Adequacy Inspection Checklist has been included inthe first part of Figure 1.Discussion of Checklist in order:If there is no Site
System adequacy evidence: (that is, evidence that shows that the system inplace was installed in accordance with regulations and guidance from the local authority)there will have to be a full site characterisation and possible site works process- We are notdealing with this process in this project as stated above. However, if there is evidence, the oldsystem must simply be thoroughly checked to assure it is running smoothly- hence the rest of the inspection checklist questions.Check for Location of system: Not all systems are easy to find, and some owners will noteven know where there system is. In the case that there is no sketch of the systems location,the system must be located and a sketch drawn and kept for later inspections. The method forfinding the septic tank is by flushing a radio transmitter unit down one of the house toiletsand located using a special radio receiver, proving quite a useful method for worst-casescenarios (Inspectapedia, 2006).If the septic tank system is not
easy to access (near the earth surface), then ‘manhole risers’
should be added to the expenses and placed to facilitate in later inspections. These will bringthe manhole access to the eart
h’s surface and should ensure easy access for the inspector but
no way for children or other persons to access the septic tank.For the initial inspection, the tanks capacity should be calculated, recorded and related to themaximum human occupancy in the adjacent house- this will ensure that only adequately sizedtanks are being used in houses that may have been extended or have had new/bigger familiesmoved in. If the capacity is found to be lacking, a new system or upgrade must be discussed.Are there any odours around the septic tank/percolation area: The presence of odours can bethe first give-away of system failure or inefficiency.Is there sign of surface ponding: this can be a give-away of system failure also, such as burstpiping, leaking tanks or failure of the soil to allow adequate percolation. The test to find if this surface ponding originates from the septic tank system is the red dye test (Inspectapedia,

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