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What is Industrial Water Waste?

Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis

Industrial water waste is water that is used in the production or process of goods and energy. A large amount of modern industry relies on water to assist with the cooling of devices or cleaning of pollutants within the production process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, industrial waste water levels have declined considerably in the early 21st century, but the fact remains that a number of different industries rely on the use of water to function.

This industrial water waste is handled by either removing the water and sending it to a treatment facility or treating the water on location and releasing it into river ways and lakes. Due to the long process of treating the industrial water waste, corrosion of the facilities is common, along with the encouragement of bacterial growth. This includes the possibility of Legionnaires' Disease, which can be fatal.

Some industrial wastewater treatment processes remove contaminants and then pipe the water back into use in the factory.
Some industrial wastewater treatment processes remove contaminants and then pipe the water back into use in the factory.

One of the most common examples of industrial water waste comes from the process of cooling or heating. This can be accomplished in machinery with a large scale radiator that cools different parts of a device. When the water is released it is generally a higher temperature than the other bodies of water in which it will be introduced. The same is true for water used in boiler systems. Outside of the concerns over temperature, additional factors such as rust contamination are commonplace.

A large amount of industrial water waste contains additional pollutants that need to be dealt with by processing facilities. Due to its widespread use in the 20th century, both asbestos and lead are commonly found in waste water. Both of these materials can harm humans and animals by causing cancers or damaging a body's enzymes. Mercury has also been found in industrial water waste according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Farms and agricultural industries produce a variety of water waste that directly impact ground water used for drinking and cleaning. Fertilizers commonly include both nitrates and phosphates to help stimulate growth. Both of these are washed away by rainfall and watering during the farming process. The biggest concern according to the EPA is the damage to marine life.

Sulfur, petrochemicals and oils also find their way into industrial water waste. In a variety of factories and engineering facilities, water is used to clean floors and machinery. This water collects these materials and is usually disposed of in an unwanted manner, such as simply being flushed into the sewer. Normal water treatment facilities are generally ill-equipped to handle the influx of these harmful elements.

Discussion Comments


@bythewell - I would argue that most industry is actually fairly clean now. Oh, it's definitely not perfect and there are still battles to fight, but most places have industrial waste water treatment plants and they put water back into the environment that's cleaner than that they took in.

It's the farmers who are really causing the biggest problems at the moment. Unfortunately, cows produce massive amounts of waste water and pollution and it very rarely gets treated. More often it just gets washed into the rivers. It's almost as bad as the industry used to be, since it causes all the same problems, but they argue that the pollutants are natural, so there's no need to regulate them.


@umbra21 - Legionellosis outbreaks are actually pretty rare. They do happen on occasion in prisons and in cruise ships where it's really difficult to keep the waste water clean and there's poor ventilation.

But these sorts of places ought to step up with their waste water treatment anyway. I don't think there's any excuse in the 21st century to be disposing of dirty water into the ocean or any nearby waterways.

But, people still do it and do it without any remorse for the damage to the environment.

I guess people think of it as someone else's problem. They don't associate the decline in fish stocks and the rise in prices, or the fact that it's dangerous to swim in a lot of rivers now, as something to do with them.

It is something we can change if we take action. Even if only to sign a petition to put harsher rules in place for factories so that they stop putting so much industrial waste in water ways.


Legionnaires' Disease is actually quite a scary one, just because it can hit large numbers of people at once if it manages to get into the air conditioning at an office.

While the term industrial water waste makes it sound as though it only applies to factories, you often get water waste coming from businesses which have extensive air conditioning, because the water is used for cooling purposes.

And if Legionnaires' Disease manages to get into the water, it can be recycled through the whole system, so that everyone in the building is vulnerable to it.

About 30% of cases lead to death which is pretty high, although I believe that that statistic comes from people who get the disease in hospital, so they are already ill.

It's relatively easy to prevent if the water in air conditioning systems is treated properly, but something to keep in mind if you're working in an old building where no one has fixed the air conditioning in years.

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    • Some industrial wastewater treatment processes remove contaminants and then pipe the water back into use in the factory.
      By: chartcameraman
      Some industrial wastewater treatment processes remove contaminants and then pipe the water back into use in the factory.