Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are used to manufacture a wide variety of products from building materials to personal care products. Water utility companies are faced with the task of preventing these contaminants from reaching public water supplies.

Although VOCs are present throughout the environment, the two types most frequently found in water are chlorinated solvents, such as tetrachloroethylene, and fuel components, such as benzene. To prevent the leaching of these contaminants into water supplies, biological water treatment systems are used to remove them. These treatments create microbiological organisms that either seek out and destroy harmful VOCs, or simply reduce them to non-harmful forms.

Biological drinking water treatment processes date back as early as the 1800s, when sand was used in the filtration process. These sand filtration methods first originated in Europe, then later appeared in the U.S. But even earlier civilizations saw a need for a safe water filtration process. Evidence of carbon filtration systems have been identified as far back as 4000 B.C.E., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Water utility companies are tasked with providing water treatment services with shrinking budgets and limited staffing. The water provided to communities through public wells may come from a variety of sources, so an effective method to screen for and remove VOCs is essential. Biological water treatments offer a solution that works on many levels.

Cost effectiveness is essential. Traditional water treatment solutions require high amounts of energy and chemical processes. Biological water treatments are less expensive than either the traditional ion exchange or membrane treatment processes in treating drinking water supplies.

Sustainability is also important. Chemical additives impact the health of the environment as well as humans. Biological water treatments use low energy to remove contaminants, in addition to a low volume discharge of non-hazardous waste, rather than create additional toxic waste in the process.

Compliance issues can be a problem for water utility companies, whether they are state or federal, especially if the existing process is outdated or inefficient. The presence of harmful nitrates, arsenic, lead, and VOCs is monitored, along with groundwater issues such as fecal contamination. If a system is found out of compliance, corrective action is required by governmental agencies. Biological water treatments can effectively bring a water supply into compliance.

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