Septic tanks will be the modus operandi for sewage disposal for the foreseeable future

Dear Editor,

An article which appeared in the news media recently, reported on the deliberations of the Wastewater Conference held at Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) headquarters. At that meeting, Junior Communities Minister Dawn Hastings-Williams stated that future housing scheme development in Guyana will have centrally installed water treatment plants instead of septic tanks for individual premises. The objective for this proposed upgrade as claimed is to address the growing threat of water pollution.

Dr Van West-Charles, GWI’s Managing Director in his presentation to the conference was non-committal with respect to the introduction of the central treatment of wastewater from homes, as opposed to septic tanks as is presently the widespread practice in Guyana. He correctly noted that many of the installed septic tanks are not performing as intended because of poor design and construction, and stated that his staff were preparing designs for efficiently operated septic tanks and where possible, their replacement with the best water treatment plant option available will be examined. Unfortunately, he failed to recognize that soak-away pits are necessary accessories for the efficient operation of septic tanks and the urgent need for country-wide regulatory oversight for septic tanks system design and their construction.

Water/sewage treatment plants are expensive to construct, operate and maintain, and Guyana does not have the resources to introduce this system for waste disposal from its populated areas, any time soon. Because of the lack of finance, Georgetown does not have a central treatment plant and its wastewater is pumped directly into the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, well-designed septic tanks with soak-away pits will have to be the modus operandi to treat wastewater/sewage from human activities in Guyana for the foreseeable future. Where applicable, industries generating toxic waste should install in-house treatment facilities in accordance with WHO standards.

It is worth noting that many homes in the United States and elsewhere still rely on septic tank systems for their wastewater treatment. Contrary to GWI Sanitation Manager Joseph’s claims, wastewater sludge generated by any proposed Guyanese treatment facility will be uneconomic for conversion into fertilizer for the agricultural sector and/or to harness its chemical energy to generate electricity for the national grid. New York City pays to dump its wastewater sludge onto landfills and in the Atlantic Ocean as there are no markets available for it as a fertilizer for agricultural crops or to harness its chemical energy to generate electricity.

Ms Hastings-Williams and Dr Van West-Charles no doubt have ambitious ideas to deal with the treatment of wastewater before it becomes a major health issue. However, they have failed to comprehend that contaminated drinking water poses a far greater danger to the health of all Guyanese. Therefore, they should direct their energies and limited government resources at their disposal to provide safe and reliable drinking (potable) water for all the people, as is not the case presently, as much of the water produced is distributed untreated and unfiltered.

Yours faithfully,

Charles Sohan

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