On-site wastewater treatment and disposal systems on reclaimed mined land

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Virginia Tech


The development of southwest Virginia’s coal mining areas is severely hampered by a lack of building sites and waste disposal facilities. New technologies to reclaim mined lands have the capacity to produce large level expanses of land suitable for building sites by using the minespoil to reshape the land contours. Because these areas are generally too remote for centralized sewer to be economically feasible, the problem of waste disposal remains. Also, the current Virginia Department of Health regulations forbid placement of on-site waste water treatment and dispsoal systems (OSWTDS) in any fill material, including minespoil. The objective of this research is to examine alternative OSWTDS technologies for their applicability to treating wastewater in fill materials with respect to both removal of biological and chemical contaminants and hydraulic performance. In the fall of 1989, topsoil and minespoil materials were transported from southwest Virginia to Blacksburg, Virginia. The soil material was screened, air-dried, and packed into large plastic cylinders. Septic tank effluent and sand filter effluent was applied to the soil columns daily at three different loading rates for a period of 5 months. Wastewater samples were collected after passing through the soil columns and analyzed for several chemical parameters as well as fecal coliforms. Antibiotic-resistant Escherichia Coli and bacteriophage T-1 (virus) were introduced into the columns and analyzed in the filtrate. The soil material in the columns was also characterized for selected physical parameters. The results indicate that the concentration of total inorganic N was reduced 15 to 60% after the effluent was passed through the soil columns. However, the NO₃ - N concentrations were still above the 10 mg/L drinking water standard indicating that housing density should be considered when fill material is used for OSWTDS. The quantity of P emerging from the columns was higher than anticipated in minespoil column effluent which is probably related to the indigenous P present in the minespoil. The P concentration in topsoil column effluent increased with influent application and this relationship could be described by quadratic functions. The numbers of fecal coliforms were reduced (93 to 99%) by passing effluent through the soil columns. The concentration of indicator organisms indicated a gradual decline in viable bacterial cells and viral particles over time, with the indicator virus assays being completely negative by day 11. The tracer organism study also indicates that the survival time of these organisms can be effectively controlled in topsoil by reducing the influent loading rates, and in minespoil by reducing the influent loading rates and using some type of pretreatment, such as a sand filter. This study indicates that OSWTDS can be placed in selected topsoil areas in reclaimed minelands. It further indicates that at least 60 cm of unsaturated topsoil should be available for wastewater renovation. Minespoils were also effective at renovating wastewater, but may require pretreatment before application, a lower loading rate, a deeper unsaturated zone, or perhaps a combination of these factors.