World Toilet Day puts focus on wastewater

Nov. 19—One local wastewater engineer is swirling information in honor of today’s designation as World Toilet Day.

The United Nations started World Toilet Day in 2012, and this year’s campaign is designed to raise awareness of the 3.6 billion people — roughly half of the world’s population — living without access to safe sanitary systems, according to the UN’s Observances website.

Chris Weiss is a wastewater engineer for H2M architects + engineers, which has an office at 360 Bloomfield Ave. in Windsor. Weiss is using the UN toilet initiative to flesh out the benefits of wastewater treatment systems and advocate for certain municipalities to upgrade outdated systems that are harmful to the environment.

The Clean Water Act of the 1980s significantly improved wastewater treatment facilities along the Long Island Sound and Connecticut shores. But now more work needs to be done to expand sewer districts and improve the finite capacity of treatment plants, Weiss said.

“We feel there is an untapped capacity in a lot of these treatment plants that is going unused because there is just not enough funding and/or attention to that,” Weiss said.

In addition to expanding sewer districts, Weiss said that some outdated collection systems, such as cesspools and septic tanks, have to be replaced because they are discharging wastewater into the environment.

“It doesn’t take long for that water to travel from groundwater to the shoreline, and that impact can’t be ignored anymore,” Weiss said.

Wastewater releases harmful nitrogen components into lakes and rivers and creates algae blooms that steal oxygen from the water, Weiss said.

Weiss said there should be a greater focus on sustainability and re-use, which means redirecting wastewater away from rivers and lakes and treating it to a level so it can be released back upstream.

“You want to continually strive for a circular water cycle … where you’re cleaning the wastewater up and putting it back into the system so you’re replenishing it,” Weiss said. “That’s sustainability for the future.”

Many smaller municipalities across the state have separate collection systems for sewage and wastewater. But larger municipalities, such as Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, have systems that were designed over 100 years ago and collect sewage and storm water in one pipe, which is called a combined sewer system, according to the Department of Energy and Environment Protection.

Nisha Patel, who is the assistant director of DEEP’s wastewater division, said heavy rainfall this year has caused an increase in the amount of discharges from the state’s combined sewer systems. Separating systems would create more capacity for these urban areas and help prevent untreated sewage from spreading.

Patel also emphasized the importance of properly disposing of medication in a household trashcan or by putting it in a drug drop box at a local police department.

Similar to untreated sewage, flushed medication can get into water bodies and cause harm to fish. Those who are interested can visit the Department of Consumer Protection’s website at

Austin Mirmina is the Journal Inquirer’s business reporter and also covers the town of Windsor.

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