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Emerging challenges for pathogen control and resource recovery in natural wastewater treatment systems

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Natural wastewater treatment systems have been used for centuries to recover resources through agriculture and aquaculture water reuse. Because the management of wastewater using natural methods relies on the integration of environmental, engineered, economic, and social systems, pathogens cannot be effectively monitored and controlled in these systems using a single approach or a single indicator organism (e.g., monitoring for coliform indicator bacteria). Different types of pathogens are removed at different rates in natural wastewater treatment systems and certain diseases are more important in some regions than they are in others. For natural systems in tropical regions that incorporate water reuse for agriculture or aquaculture, parasites such as soil‐transmitted helminths, Schistosoma, Taenia, or food‐transmitted trematodes may be of greater public health concern than some bacterial pathogens. Professionals and practitioners must consider how social and environmental systems might be shaped by the use of natural wastewater management systems, and how, in turn, natural wastewater management may impact existing socio‐environmental relationships. Because of this, effective pathogen monitoring and control in natural wastewater treatment systems requires coordinated participation from stakeholders in multiple sectors. WIREs Water 2015, 2:701–714. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1101 This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Water, Health, and Sanitation
Decision‐making tool to determine the most appropriate pathogen and nutrient removal objectives for natural wastewater treatment systems.
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A wastewater treatment pond system in Bolivia that failed within 10 years of operation (top), due to the build‐up of sludge and the lack of overall maintenance; anaerobic reactor in Bolivia that failed after 5 years of operation (bottom), due to a clogged sludge removal pipe. The former system was maintained on a voluntary basis by farmers who used the effluent for irrigation, and the latter system was maintained by a paid operator from the community. Bottom four photos courtesy of Nathan Reents.
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Ratio of the estimated quantity of nutrients and water in existing sewer systems compared to overall nutrient imports and agricultural water withdrawal in food‐importing developing countries (dark gray) and low‐income countries with food deficits (light gray), with Bolivia (black) as a case study.
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