Sewage has always been a perpetual problem for cities today because of the risk it could bring to the health of the community and the environment if proper measures are not taken to manage it appropriately. It is important to develop best practices in safely handling biosolids for workers who come in close contact with sewage sludge.
Wastewater contains a variety of toxic substances both organic and inorganic that could potentially be harmful to employees of treatment plants if they do not exercise adequate hygiene and sanitation protocols.
The people who run the highest risk of exposure include workers at sewage treatment plants, employees who transport sewage from septic tanks to authorized facilities, operators of recycled water systems, farmers who apply biosolids to the land, laboratory staff who handle sewage or recycled water samples or biosolids or contaminated soil samples, and plumbers, irrigators and other people involved in maintenance work for wastewater systems.
For employees to be effective in safely handling biosolids, it is important for them to know the hazards that they commonly deal with at work. This should increase their awareness of the danger of the materials they handle and have the appropriate measures to manage them safely.
One of the most common hazards found in sewage are biological organisms. There are a lot of disease-causing pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa or other microorganisms that can be found in sewage. It is not surprising then that the biggest risk in handling sewage waste is exposure to microbial hazards.
Enteric microbial pathogens, such as rotavirus and Cryptosporidium, are organisms that propagate mostly in the intestines. They can cause diseases like gastroenteritis if the organisms are ingested. Opportunistic pathogens like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Legionella pneumophila can also be found in sewage material and is able to infect the lungs and other organs of persons with a weakened immune system. Microbes can also release harmful poisons called endotoxins that could be inhaled making it very contagious. Parasites such as intestinal worms and Giardia duodenalis can also be found in sewage which may lead to parasitic worm infestation and damage multiple organs in the body.
Another dangerous hazard are chemicals. Biological activity in sewage can lead to a deficiency in oxygen and produce flammable gases such as methane and other toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. Methane is dangerous because it could be agitated during transport increasing the risk of fire or explosion. Other chemical contaminants may come in the form of solvents, organic chemicals and heavy metals which come from industrial facilities.
These hazards can pose a threat to the health and safety of the employees in the workplace so best practices in proper handling of these materials are a priority. Workers can contract an illness from improper handling of waste material either through exposure from the air or on the skin. It would affect their nose, throat, respiratory tract, eyes, and other parts of the body that may have had direct contact with sewage.
Proper handwashing can minimize the chance of contamination from pathogens because it reduces the organisms that you may have picked up from contaminated tools and protective equipment. Always wear the appropriate protective gear to eliminate accidental contamination when handling waste. Routine cleaning of the facilities, trucks, and equipment can ensure that the risk from exposure to harmful materials are kept low.
If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us at 1 (877) 479-1388.