When you hear the word plumbing, chances are you think of the internal water system working throughout your home. But in reality, plumbing is a whole lot more.
The entire water system – from drinking water to waste water – is an intricate system that gives us our modern day society. Pipes? Water mains? Sewer systems? Sewage treatment plants? Yes, the entire process is built to control millions of gallons of water and waste every day.
Along the way we add chemicals at every single stage of the process to create an ecosystem that allows us to live in a healthy way. Or in some cases, maybe a not so healthy way. We add chlorine to disinfect our water supply. When people dump antibiotics down the toilet, it impacts what we drink. Metals may be throughout the system both protecting the pipes and in some cases eating away at the design.
And of course it also comes down to the sewage treatment plants and the bacteria that is formed to break down our waste and keep the entire process running day in and day out.
Our current system was designed and created decades ago. While we update and fix things along the way, we’re also reaching a turning point in our current modern day systems.
Think of our sewage pipes as the veins of our cities; the drinking water pipes are the arteries. To have a complete system, both must be kept at optimal levels all the time. Yet both are currently in trouble.
Because of age, the sewage pipes are currently experiencing an unanticipated level of corrosion. And its mainly because of bacteria in the system.
One set of microbes in the system emits hydrogen sulfide, the gas that gives raw sewage its unpleasant smell. This gas fills the empty space between the pipe and the water flow.
Another set of microbes lives in the headspace and turns the hydrogen sulfide into sulfuric acid, which eats away at the concrete and produces a powdery material called gypsum – similar to what you would find in drywall.
As this occurs over time, the pipes get weaker and weaker – think of wet drywall throughout the system.
This is what is currently happening throughout our systems. And its something that is currently being addressed right now.
Many solutions are being used and tested right here in the communities we live in. One solution involves replacing all pipes with a plastic alternative. One solution is a new type of concrete that can be sprayed on the inside of existing pipes, introducing small amounts of charcoal and bacteria killing metals into the system. Think of it as introducing good bacteria into the system to counter the bad acting bacteria, neutralizing they process.
In either case, it is something we need to take seriously as we enter the coming years. We can’t continue to fool ourselves into thinking our drinking water is sterile. It has its problems and if we don’t do things now to prevent further disruption, it could be a problem each of us has to deal with in our homes in the very near future.