Recording color and foam changes is a great, simple way to monitor wastewater treatment systems. While you cannot use color and foam alone - you need to do the standard battery of tests including SV30, D.O., OUR, microscopic exam, MLSS - it is a quick, painless way to see changes in biomass.
Look at both the water and MLSS color. In systems with dye and highly colored influent, color observations are less accurate, but changes should still be monitored. A healthy MLSS is brown in color. The brown color results from bacteria cells, biological polymers, and particulate materials. Lighter brown usually indicates an immature biomass - where biopolymers are not at optimal levels. Dark colors - trending towards gray/black indicate older sludge, septicity, and if accompanied by odors, a problem with aeration/mixing. Colors are subjective and depend upon ambient light, so try to monitor changes and record observations. In summmary:
Foam originates from influent surfactants, biological polymers, and even microbial produce surfactants. For observation purposes: record depth, color, and foam stability. As foam is directly related to biological activity (again high surfactants in the influent can confound this observation) - it gives you great information on microbial activity. Here is how I interpret foam observations:
Remember, noting color and foam are just observational tests. They should be done in conjunction with normal physical and laboratory tests. An observant operator can see if something has changed by looking at color or foam in a few seconds - unlike lab tests that can take several hours or days. So, start recording observations and it will help you maintain good biological waste treatment.
Erik Rumbaugh has been involved in biological waste treatment for over 20 years. He has worked with industrial and municipal wastewater facilities to ensure optimal performance of their treatment systems. He is a founder of Aster Bio (www.asterbio.com) specializing in biological waste treatment.
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