This is a question that crops up again and again – and not knowing the correct way to throw away unwanted paint or chemicals often leads people to guiltily toss them in with the general rubbish, or worse, down the drain – believing that the sewage plant will be able to remove them, perhaps not even knowing that the drain’s not a good hazardous waste destination.
The truth is that after treatment in a sewage plant, water is discharged into rivers, lakes and streams. Most municipal systems rely on bacteria or other organisms to decompose the waste. Some hazardous household waste can pass through the system unchanged and thus pollute the water downstream, and some chemicals can also corrode the plumbing or collect in the trap and release potentially toxic fumes through the drains.
It is illegal to pour chemicals or detergents into a storm drain. The storm sewer system which is where most open street drains lead, usually sends rainwater directly to the receiving lake or river completely untreated.
In most UK cities and in the countryside the drainage and sewerage systems are separated, but in much of London, the drainage and sewerage systems are combined. This means that a lot of the dirty water that goes down storm drains is actually taken to the sewage works for cleaning before being returned to the Thames. But when rain is heavy, the system becomes overfull, and raw sewage overflows through storm drains into the river. This sewage is mixed with other pollutants such as oil from the roads and can be a deadly mixture. Pouring chemicals and paint down either the storm drain or into a household drain means that a highly toxic concoction reaches the Thames River, poisoning aquatic life and harming our environment.
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