Low quality small sewage systems taint industry

27th March 2009 By: Fatima Gabru

Cheap, badly designed small sewerage plants are tainting the small sewerage plant market, small sewage plant systems manufacturer Famsystems MD Juan Van Kerckhoven, tells Engineering News.

"Currently, there are a number of cheap, badly designed small sewage plants that are failing and polluting water tables and river systems, adding to national water and environment concerns. While at the same time, there is a huge demand for these small plants," he comments.

A small sewage system is a pre-engineered system which is basically the same as the larger ones. The difference lies in the higher inflow fluctuations, which require greater safety considerations. A pre-engineered, small sewage plant package can serve single households to about 2 000 households.

These plants are largely supplied to housing developers, individual development owners such as hotels, and now small, local municipalities are starting to look to small sewage plants to augment the limited current sewage infrastructure. A small sewage plant also provides a quicker solution to infrastructure needs than engineered ones, he says.

He explains that the failing small sewage plants are the cheaper, badly designed options that developers have chosen over the quality systems available, when deciding on a small sewage system. "These cheaper-made sewer plants are bound to fail and are now responsible for a number of pollution problems because of bad effluent quality," he adds.

He says that good small sewage plants will always have a lot to offer to the market, and that quality should be the decider when considering small sewage plants, he states.

Van Kerckhoven comments that a further problem in the small sewage plant market is the lack of skilled care and maintenance of installed systems. "The challenge is to ensure that there are trained and committed staff operating and maintaining the plants after installation," he adds.

To this end Famsystems has expanded its operations to include a maintenance programme for the sewage plants that it installs. The company offers a monthly management service, as well as the full operations of certain plants, so that the systems can run to its full potential.

Van Kerckhoven states that the good, small sewage plant manufacturers are all starting to add this service to their offerings.

He says that another challenge in the smaller sewage plant market is to build plants to the specifications of an individual job. He is emphatic that there is a need in the industry for the approval of each small-plant design, rather than the certification of a manufacturing company, because pre-engineered plants have to be designed for each specific application.

In addition, there is a need for manufacturers to keep costs down, as this only encourages the drive towards low-cost, low-quality plants, which is damaging to the industry.

"Costs need to be limited, but they should not be cut to compromise quality. Nevertheless, there should not be over-engineering or over control of the smaller systems," he notes.

"The reputable, committed industry players do offer a service and maintenance contract after the sale of the plants, which is the way forward for the entire small sewage plant manufacturers and suppliers sector," he states.

Wisa Conference

Meanwhile, the Water Institute of South Africa (Wisa), held a conference on Small Wastewater Treatment Systems in February.

The focus of the conference included an introduction to and the design of small wastewater treatment systems and a Water Research Commission workshop. Issues on capacity building as well as the environmental impact of small wastewater treatment systems were also covered at the conference.

Famsystems sales manager Dion Simonato attended the conference and says that it highlighted the need for the correct plant and design for every individual application, as well as the need for ownership once the plant is installed.

He states that there is a problem with the lack of ownership from the developer to the home owners association not taking responsibility to operate and maintain a plant. He states that the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry was particularly vocal about the issue of ownership, responsibility and accountability after the sale of a small sewage plant.

He adds that, "as manufacturers, Famsystems and other manufacturers were required to give input on recommendations for plant design, operation, maintenance and service levels to prevent the problems the small sewage plant sector is currently facing.

This lack of capacity extends through to the big plants where there is a lack of skilled operation and maintenance," he says.

Van Kerckhoven comments that currently there is a search for quality controls within the sector. He believes that self-regulation is the only quality control that will have a long-term effect on the sector, where the reputable, quality manufacturers will survive.

"Company's which are bringing the sector into disrepute must be blacklisted if they persist in selling below-quality plants, without any commitment to after-sales service," he concludes.