Sewage treatment plants face a shortage of chemicals for water purification

sewage treatment plant

Hydrochloric acid is an important component for the production of precipitants, i.e. iron or aluminum salts. These prevent them from entering rivers in high concentrations.

(Photo: dpa)

Hanover Sewage treatment plants nationwide are running out of certain chemicals used to clean wastewater, which could pose a problem for rivers. So-called precipitating agents, i.e. iron or aluminum salts, normally bind phosphates dissolved in the wastewater during chemical water purification and thus prevent high concentrations of these from entering the rivers reach.

According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, more and more sewage treatment plants are struggling with delivery problems for precipitants. Without any precipitants, municipal sewage treatment plants are forced to discharge wastewater with a high phosphate content into the rivers.

This is a nationwide challenge, said the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Environment on Friday. For this reason, the federal states are in close contact. Solutions are being sought together with the federal government. Lower Saxony is currently chairing the Conference of Environment Ministers.

If the shortage of precipitants worsens, it cannot be ruled out that the operation of the sewage treatment plants will be disrupted, the ministry warned. If the situation does not improve in the foreseeable future, the water authorities were given the option of exceeding the phosphate limit values ​​- for the time of the exceptional situation. Appropriate information and regulations were sent to the water authorities, limited until October 31st. Other federal states are likely to follow, wrote the “Spiegel”.

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According to the report, the reason for the delivery difficulties is a shortage of hydrochloric acid, mainly because of the high energy prices. Hydrochloric acid is a basic product for the production of precipitants.

High phosphate levels in water endanger animal life

The Association of chemical industry explained how dramatic the supply situation for hydrochloric acid is, cannot be estimated due to the lack of production data on individual substances. In principle, the industry is forced to cut production sharply because of the extremely high gas and electricity prices. If individual raw materials were only produced to a limited extent, this would have far-reaching consequences for the downstream stages of the value chain.

A ministry spokeswoman said that phosphates had no direct toxic effect on people or the environment. However, they acted as fertilizer for aquatic plants and algae. If too much phosphate gets into the water, this can lead to increased growth of algae. Algae blooms, on the other hand, can cause major damage because they remove a lot of oxygen from the water. Fish and other animals could die and water bodies could collapse.

Therefore, everything must be done to keep the impact on the rivers as low as possible, the spokeswoman made clear. In the event of delivery failures, the sewage treatment plant operators should also check whether the operation can be switched to alternative precipitants or whether the use of precipitants can be reduced in order to bridge the time until the next delivery.

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