Opinion: The gateway to a safely managed sanitary system
Christopher A. Weiss
Nov. 19, 2021
World Toilet Day is marked on Friday, Nov. 19, and although it may cause a few laughs and inappropriate jokes, it is a day that brings awareness to a critical human rights issue.
According to the United Nations, 3.6 billion people do not have access to safe, sanitary toilets. Although many of us may take access to one for granted, if even a small minority of a community does not have a functioning sanitation system, the entire community’s health is threatened.
The observance of this day is for more than potty humor, it is for the recognition of this human right that is being neglected globally.
Access to safe sanitation goes hand in hand with access to clean drinking water. If members of a community are using a sanitation system that does not comply with current health standards, that community’s drinking water is threatened. According to the UN, approximately 2 billion people drink water from a source that has been contaminated by feces. More than 700 children under age 5 die every day due to conditions linked to unsafe sanitation and drinking water. The UN’s goal is to ensure “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation” by 2030.
The toilet is the first piece in a safely managed sanitary system. That is why World Toilet Day celebrates and places the toilet at the forefront of its message and looks to elevate its importance and recognition.
Sanitation systems, however, are more than toilets. One major factor in a safe sanitation system is the collection of the waste after it goes down the drain. Collection systems convey waste through lateral pipes underground and transport it to a wastewater treatment facility. These treatment facilities remove pollutants and then return the water to its sources, including that which is used for drinking water and irrigation. The importance of this for the health of the community cannot be understated as without a collection and treatment process, those pollutants find their way into drinking water and food sources potentially causing a serious public health crisis.
Highlighting the national importance of this health issue, a total of $10 billion has been designated in the newly passed federal infrastructure bill to address emerging contaminants, pollutants in wastewater that have ecological and human health impacts. There also are several grants, such as the Publicly Owned Treatment Works Grant Program, that will obtain additional funds from the infrastructure bill to support wastewater infrastructure improvement. This program, along with other initiatives, provides financial assistance to municipalities, including those in Connecticut, that need to strengthen wastewater collection and treatment. Interestingly, this may include installation of sewers in areas that still rely on septic systems.
Wastewater engineers specialize in improving communities’ access to sanitary systems. Whether adding onsite individual systems to replace older or failed onsite systems, extending publicly owned sanitary collections systems to reach underserved sanitary service areas, or creating new public and private sanitary collection and treatment service areas, the drive to improve the lives of the people in the community for today and the next generations must be a high priority.
We encourage readers to reach out to local government officials to learn more about wastewater collection and treatment in your area and to support the UN’s World Toilet Day campaign by increasing your awareness and understanding of this global health crisis.
Christopher A. Weiss is senior vice president and director of wastewater engineering at H2M architects + engineers, which has offices in Windsor.