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Current IssueSeptember 01, 2015
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Ask The Expert: Softeners and the environment
Question: Does the discharge of salt or potassium used in water softeners have a degrading effect on the effluent discharge from out sewage treatment plant into our local stream?

Frank Reed 

Answer: Water softener effluent has no deleterious effect on sewage treatment plant operation. If sewage is to be discharged into a local stream, there are very specific regulations that need to be studied. Keep in mind that the primary contaminant from a water softener is sodium chloride or possibly potassium chloride -— and in very miniscule amounts. There are many other contributors of such brine additives to the municipal waste stream, not least of them other household products such as soaps, detergents and other cleaners or solvents. In addition, industrial facilities, restaurants, hospitals, schools and so forth contribute to this as well. And, in colder climates, you also have the additive effect of road salt to de-ice streets and highways. In combination, some believe there is a negative effect on the environment (of the sodium or chloride, not the potassium, which is believed to be beneficial to plant growth). Frequently, softeners have been singled out for bans or restrictions. The point-of-use/point-of-entry water treatment industry's position on this is that -- out of fairness -- a comprehensive look needs to be taken as to all the contributors of sodium or chlorides to the waste stream and each should be required to make efforts to reduce their overall contribution before singling out softeners as an easy target. Keep in mind, that the industry in compromise legislation in 1999 agreed to improve the salt efficiency of softeners significantly in a good faith effort to do its part to reduce the brine load on wastewater systems in California where water supplies are more critical and reuse more common. Currently, in Los Angeles, a campaign has been launched to encourage homeowners to not use softeners. This again focuses on symptoms rather than looking at a total cure for the patient. It will only prolong the need to look at the overall contributors and find a more comprehensive approach to the issue, one that is not restrictive of the consumer's right to choose to improve the quality of water in their home. With outbreaks of Cryptosporidium and E. coli in municipal supplies and higher maximum contaminant levels set for everything from arsenic to radon in drinking water, this equipment offers the consumer not only the ability to improve taste, color and odor but offers them an added sense of assurance as to the safety of their drinking water. Unless all the brine factors are approached, an individual choosing not to use a softener isn't going to have much impact on the environment.

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