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National Water Quality Month: An Opportunity to Say Thank You

August 15, 2023

Protecting Our Resources

August is National Water Quality Month. Clean water is vital for our health and community. This month, MetroConnects would like to pause and take a moment to appreciate the work Greenville’s water and wastewater crews do every day to protect these most precious resources. From keeping sewer water safe in the pipes, to ensuring quality water emerges from your taps, MetroConnects, Greenville Water, Renewable Water Resources, and others play a key part in keeping waste out of our water. Every time you turn your tap, clean water for drinking, cleaning, and bathing appears. You have these workers to thank! Importantly, you have yourself to thank as well. We ALL play a part in keeping our ecosystem safe!

Every Drop Counts

Everything on our planet relies on water. And, did you know that every drop of water on the planet today has always existed? And will it always exist, as long as our planet does? The problem is, we often forget that if it exists in a polluted form, it doesn’t do us or the earth much good. In fact, as we know, polluted water has enormous health impacts for humans, animals and plant life. Unfortunately, much of industrial life throughout the world generates huge amounts of pollution, even in our most remote and pristine areas. For example, the U.S. National Parks Conservation Association has reported that “207 of our 397 national parks — 52 percent — have waterways that are considered ‘impaired’ under the Clean Water Act, meaning they do not meet appropriate water quality standards.” According to NationalWaterQualityMonth.org, huge swaths of the ocean are becoming “dead zones,” largely due to fertilizer runoff. Freshwater sources fair no better — virtually every river tested in South Carolina was recently found to contain toxic chemicals. Much of this pollution comes from industrial and agricultural runoff and polluted stormwater. Wet weather events can also contribute to pollution when old, cracked sanitary sewer pipes fill with stormwater and cause Sanitary Sewer Overflows. This is where MetroConnects comes in: Every day, our crews are out in the field maintaining our sewer system, and where needed, rehabilitating and replacing old pipes. We are especially excited to begin work in mill villages such as Dunean, Mills Mill, and Union Bleachery, with money allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act, South Carolina Infrastructure Investment Program, and SC Rural Infrastructure Authority grants that we were awarded earlier this year.

How You Can Help

Protecting water is everyone’s job. Every time you properly dispose of your waste, you are helping in our mission to keep the quality of Greenville’s water high. By ensuring that nothing is going down your drains and toilets besides water, disposal-safe liquids, and food scraps (see “What Can Go Down My Disposal?” for more), environmentally safe laundry detergent (see “Hidden Hazards of Laundry Detergent” for more) and the three P’s (toilet paper, poop and pee), you are keeping dangerous chemicals out of the water system, and protecting pipes from potentially hazardous backups.

6 Ways to Protect Your Water

1. Wash your car at a car wash. Professional car washes are legally required to drain into sewer systems rather than storm drains. This prevents toxic chemicals from soap and other cleaners from being flushed straight into a nearby freshwater source. An added bonus: professional car washes use less water than washing at home with a hose.

2. Pick up after your pet. It may seem like a small thing, but animal waste is full of nitrogen that can remove oxygen from the water, leaving it unusable for aquatic life. If your pet uses the “bathroom” near a storm drain or water source, its leavings will eventually make their way to that water source.

3. Don’t hose down your driveway. The water not only is wasted on the concrete, but it picks up oil and other toxins from your car and ushers it into nearby storm drains. Try using a broom or electric blower instead.

4. Use organic fertilizers. After heavy rainfall or watering, chemicals from fertilizer, especially phosphorus, can leak into nearby groundwater sources. Try using organic materials or waiting for drier weather if you absolutely need to use lawn care products.

5. Never flush medication. These products have toxic chemicals that are difficult to clean and can easily make their way back into the source water.

6. Do not pour oil or antifreeze into storm drains. Take these chemicals to a service station or recycling center, where they can be disposed of properly.


What Can Go Down My Disposal?

Invented in 1927, the convenience of grinding up our grub and sending it down the drain is often taken for granted. However, many aging systems were not  built with solid waste in mind. In fact, garbage disposals can be such a hazard to municipal sewer pipes and downstream water sources that many European cities outlaw them altogether. Such drastic steps can be avoided, though, if we all take a moment to think about how we treat our disposal. Much can go down the drain, but remember that it is not a trash can. What goes in (hopefully) comes out, and it comes out directly into our wastewater treatment facilities where it can cause clogs and contamination. More often however, it clogs long before it reaches the facility, causing backups into homes and out of manholes. Here is a quick primer on what can and can’t go down the disposal.

1. Soft, non-fibrous fruit and vegetable scraps. These can be ground up and moved through your pipes just fine. But, if you find you have a lot of vegetable scraps on hand, why not save them for a broth?

2. Soft, non-starchy leftovers. While you should do your best to eat up your leftovers rather than waste them down the drain, generally, soft leftovers can be sent down the garbage disposal, a long as they don’t contain large amounts of any of the foods listed below.

3. Non-toxic, non-fat liquids and soap. Dishwasher soap is safe for your sink and drain, especially if it is a gentle soap like Dawn. Other liquids like juice, alcohol and soda are fine as well. Make sure to avoid fatty liquids like milk, though, and all harsh household cleaners and chemicals. 

1. Fats, oils and greases (F.O.G.). Fats, oils and greases are culprits number 1, 2, and 3 in the wastewater world. They might seem like they are sliding down the sewer just fine, but slowly and surely they are building up somewhere down in the pipes. The backup might happen on your end, causing you some serious sink strain, or it might happen further down in the system, which ultimately costs everyone in the long run — especially if the backup causes a Sanitary Sewer Overflow

2. Fibrous and starchy vegetables and fruit.  Fibrous peels from potatoes, corn husks and other foods can catch on your disposal, mushing the food up enough to slip down the drain, but not masticating it into the close-to-liquid substance it needs to be to make its way all the way to the water treatment plant.

3. Pasta. Much like fibrous and starchy vegetables, starchy pasta mushes up but doesn’t become liquidous. Too much of it, and you’ve got a ball of goop gooping up your drains. 

4. Egg shells. The inside of an egg shell contains a thin membrane that can come loose from the shell itself. It doesn’t mush well and instead can get caught up around your disposal blades, tying up like a thin string.

5. Shells, pits and other hard foods (and household items, like spoons!). Anything as hard as a pit or shell can damage your blades. What’s more, small chunks can break off and jam themselves under a blade, preventing the whole mechanism from moving and potentially burning up the motor. This can be a costly mistake!

6. Medicines, chemicals, and harsh cleaners. If you wouldn’t want your kids to drink it, don’t put it down the drain. While water treatment plants do a fantastic job of getting your water clean and ready for re-introduction to the environment, it is a costly and difficult affair. Make that job easier and safer by keeping dangerous products out of the system.


Hidden Hazards of Laundry Detergent

When you do laundry, the used water exits through your laundry drain, carrying with it the dirt from your clothes and suds from your soap. Unlike gentle dishwasher detergent or dye- and perfume-free body wash or soap, laundry detergent and fabric softeners often contain a range of chemicals that are harsh on both your body and the environment. Those chemicals move through your drains, into sewer mains, and down to the wastewater treatment plant. There, the dirty water is processed through filters to clean it before it is discharged back into a local water source like the ocean or a lake. While the process cleans larger contaminants well, smaller contaminants, including phosphates, can slip through and be released into the environment. These chemicals can have an adverse affect on marine life and human health. When purchasing laundry detergent (or making your own), opt for brands with completely biodegradable, fragrance- and dye-free ingredients instead. Keep an eye out for the following ingredients, and avoid them when possible.

Hidden Hazards to Avoid

Many fragrance chemicals are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and other chronic health problems. Fragrance chemicals can also irritate your skin and cause redness, burning, itching, and rashes, or trigger eczema flares and worsen psoriasis. It’s best for you and those around you to avoid synthetic fragrances. If you want to add a gentle smell to your soap, try including half a cup of vinegar with a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your load. 

The synthetic dyes that laundry detergent companies add to their products don’t add any cleaning power. They do, however, cause a lot of allergic reactions and skin irritation. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES)
The SLS and SLES are chemicals typically used to remove soil and stains from clothes. However, they also irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs and damage internal organs. Fels-Naptha laundry bars (found in the laundry aisle of most grocery stores) can do the trick of stain removal without the harsh chemicals. Just rub the soap on the trouble spot, then run the clothes through the laundry like you normally would. 

Phosphates have been linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and death. Not only that, Phosphates have a significant impact on aquatic life. 

Chlorine Bleach
Chlorine bleach is common in many laundry products, and people even add more to their clothes. Bleach is highly corrosive and can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. 

Optical Brighteners or Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs)
Optical brighteners are synthetic chemicals added to standard detergents to make laundry appear whiter and brighter. They don’t actually get clothes any cleaner, but they linger in fabrics long after washing and can cause a reaction. Some optical brighteners are documented carcinogens and hormone disrupters and are highly toxic to marine life. 

This chemical is often used as a solvent in big-brand detergents. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to 1,4-dioxane may result in nausea, drowsiness, headache, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. 1,4-Dioxane is readily absorbed through the skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. The EPA classifies 1,4-dioxane as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.  Some experts have found that 1,4-dioxane accumulates in the body over time. It also accumulates in the environment, like the infamous DDT pesticide.