Social construction of wastewater treatment technologies and its effects on access to clean and safe water (STS research paper)

Tezcan, Ekrem Berke, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Lee, Jongmin, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Water. One of the most basic human necessities that there is. What if I told you that the water that we use on a regular basis to keep our industries going, to grow our food, to shower and to drink is contaminated with all kinds of pharmaceuticals and that our wastewater treatment technologies are doing nothing about it? The worst part? Long term effects of these chemicals are unknown on human health. To address this issue, my capstone team is looking at the feasibility of adding an algae mediated process into wastewater treatment plants that would remove these pharmaceuticals from our water supply. Traditionally wastewater treatment plants have 3 treatment stages. Primary treatment removes suspended and floating solids, secondary treatment removes dissolved solids and tertiary treatment removes nutrients and disinfects the water. The algae mediated tertiary treatment process allows algae to consume these pharmaceuticals making the water cleaner and safer. In addition, the algae can also be recycled throughout this process to generate electricity. This gives the treatment plants the economic incentive to implement this process. So then why is this process not already in every single wastewater treatment plant that is out there? To be able to understand this, one must understand the history of the development of these technologies and the values that affected this process. My STS research explores how aspects of different cultures may affect the social construction and adaptation to water treatment technologies. Initially I examine how the modern day treatment plants came to be by the interactions between the public, engineers, scientists and policymakers. Then I look at the pollution problems in the Ganges River in India to uncover how religion is affecting the implementation of different water treatment technologies. A cutting edge technology - recycling wastewater - that can transform sewage into potable water then is utilized in the paper to examine how the public values and collective psychology can affect the wide implementation of a technology. The paper focuses on Singapore and the United States and compares the two in terms of the public opinion towards recycled wastewater, and additional factors such as economics and politics.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
policy, wastewater

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