Suspended Solids: 11 Things (2024) You Have to Know

What are some of the top signs that you’re drinking contaminated water?

Whether it’s cloudy water, sediment, or a brown or orange hue, most of these indicators are indirectly talking about suspended solids.

Suspended solids are when fine particles exist in the water.

It’s closely connected to turbidity — the relative clarity of a liquid.

If you’re purchasing property with water, you may be interested in learning more about suspended solids.

Everyone knows that clear water is more desirable but not everyone knows why.

In this blog, we’ll break down why suspended solids can cause issues in bodies of water and how you’ll know if something is wrong in the water near you.

1. What are suspended solids?

Suspended solids refer to fine particles of sediment in water.

They are often made of organic and inorganic materials like sediment, algae, and other contaminants.

Examples of suspended solids include soil, biological solids, decaying organic matter, and particles that are discharged in wastewater.

Suspended solids can contribute to a pollution issue.

Suspended solids often correlate to the turbidity or cloudiness of water.

When there’s a high level of suspended solids, the water is murky, and sunlight won’t travel through the water.

This also makes it difficult for plants and algae to grow.

2. Are suspended solids bad?

 They can be.

Suspended solids can either clog fish gills or reduce light penetration.

In the former situation, the clog will kill the fish or reduce their growth rate.

In the latter, this situation will reduce the ability of algae to produce food and oxygen.

Additionally, as noted above, suspended solids can play a role when it comes to pollution.

Sometimes substances that cause pollution will adhere to these solids.

High levels of suspended solids (discussed below) will also interfere with water filtration and disinfection.

To remedy this, you’ll need more chlorine to disinfect turbid water effectively.

Another downside of suspended solids is the way they impact the recreational use and aesthetic enjoyment of water.

If there are lots of suspended solids, many people aren’t inclined to swim or dive in the water.

There can also be a lot of danger in doing so depending on what solids are present.

Finally, sediment deposition can close up channels or fill up water bodies.

So, instead of being water, they’d become wetlands.

3. What positive impacts do suspended solids have?

There’s a lot of discussion about how suspended solids are negative, but they aren’t entirely bad.

For example, they can help absorb chemicals like pesticides.

They can also join with them and make the toxicity less available to be absorbed by living organisms.

4. What are suspended solids versus dissolved solids?

Both suspended solids and dissolved solids are terms that measure the amount of particulate matter floating in the water.

However, the terms designate two different types of solids.

Particles that are large enough to be held back by a filter are called suspended solids or total suspended solids (TSS).

Particles that are able to pass through the filter are called total dissolved solids (TDS).

Dissolved solids include dissolved minerals and salts in the water.

Thus, TDS is often related to conductivity, salinity, alkalinity, and hardness measures.

If you have freshwater fish or bugs present in the water, they often cannot tolerate high TDS because they aren’t adapted to salty water.

5. How are these particles removed from water?

If you have suspended solids in water, treatment is possible.

You can remove them and other fine particles from liquid streams by passing them through filters.

There are a couple of different filtering options.

These include:

bulletBag filters and accessories

bulletCartridge filters and accessories

bulletCloth-type filter systems

bulletGranular media filter systems

bulletGravity filter systems

bulletPackaged water treatment plants

bulletCircular clarifiers

bulletTraveling water screens

6. Is filtering an effective way to remove suspended solids?

A cloth filter can be a simple and effective way to remove suspended solids.

This consists of using a folded cotton cloth over a water container to filter out the solids.

This method has been shown to drastically reduce the load of cholera present in water.

It’s also a really inexpensive method that can be used in low-income communities.

A disinfection tool can also be added like solar water disinfection.

However, one instance in which this method does not work is arsenic contamination of groundwater.

Arsenic is a severe pollutant that’s soluble.

It is not removed when suspended solids are removed.

This makes it difficult to filter at all, and often the best solution is finding an alternative water source or getting a reverse osmosis filter.

7. How are suspended solids measured?

The amount of suspended solids is normally determined by laboratory analysis of a water sample.

In this process, they filter the water to see if the particles pass through a filter.

The specific filter used for this process can vary in size.

Often, it’s between 0.5 to 2 micrometers.

Both total suspended solids and total dissolved solids are reported as a concentration.

8. Why are suspended solids an important factor when it comes to water?

Total suspended solids and turbidity — the optical determination of water clarity — are the most visible indicators of water quality.

Generally speaking, clear water is usually considered an indicator of healthy water – although, it is possible for some streams to have naturally high levels of suspended solids.

That said, if you have a previously clear body of water, then increased turbidity can be cause for concern.

Why are suspended solids bad in this case?

If they’re present in excess, they can impair water quality for both humans and animals.

They can also create a barrier to navigation and increase flooding risks in the nearby area.

9. What is the effect of high suspended solid levels?

Having high suspended solid levels can have negative impacts on the environment as well as human health.

When it comes to water quality, high levels of suspended solids can decrease the natural dissolved oxygen levels and increase the temperature of the water.

In many cases, this means that aquatic organisms aren’t able to survive.

Higher levels of suspended solids can also affect photosynthesis, which decreases the survival rate of plants

Finally, when this matter is present in drinking water, it can affect human health.

When bacteria are present in these solids, they can cause gastrointestinal issues in humans who consume them.

Furthermore, pipes can also suffer from suspended solids like sand and silt being present in water.

10. What other factors are impacted by these particles?

Here are the top three factors that suspended solids affect.

bulletWater chemistry

High levels of total suspended solids increase water temperatures and decrease dissolved oxygen (DO) levels.

Suspended particles absorb more heat from solar radiation than water molecules.

Via conduction, heat is transferred to the surrounding water.

Because warmer water can’t hold as much oxygen as colder water, these levels will drop.

Additionally, the increased surface temperature may cause layering in the body of water.

When this occurs, the upper and lower layers of water do not mix.

As decomposition and respiration occur in the lower layers, their dissolved oxygen levels may be too low (hypoxic).

And as a result, the organisms may not be able to survive.

bulletPhotosynthesis production

Photosynthesis can be challenged when turbidity is in play.

Turbidity blocks the sunlight, which halts or reduces photosynthesis.

This ultimately means a decrease in plant survival and decreased dissolved oxygen output.

So, plants at the bottom of an ocean, lake, or river may die, cease to grow, or not be able to continue with photosynthesis.

When underwater vegetation dies off, there are two primary effects.

First, the photosynthetic processes decrease, and less dissolved oxygen is produced.

Additionally, when organic matter decomposes, this can further drop dissolved oxygen levels.

Second, seaweed and underwater plants are necessary food sources for aquatic organisms.

If these plants die off because photosynthesis cannot be conducted, then there’s less food for aquatic life.

Ultimately, this will cause population decline throughout the ecosystem as you go up the food chain.

bulletErosion

If you’re seeing increased turbidity in water (often signaling increased suspended solids), then it may be because of increased erosion on stream banks.

When erosion occurs, it can reduce habitat quality for fish and other organisms.

bulletContamination

As noted above, pollutants (dissolved metals, pathogens, etc.) can attach to suspended particles and enter the water.

This is why it’s important to pay attention to increased turbidity because it can signal that water quality is compromised.

There could be harmful pollutants present that could make both humans and animals sick.

The most common contaminants include bacteria, protozoa, nutrients like nitrates and phosphorus, pesticides, mercury, lead, and other metals.

These contaminants can either be detrimental or toxic to aquatic life, even if they wouldn’t seem like it.

For example, nitrates and phosphorus may not seem harmful on the surface, but they can encourage the development of harmful algal blooms that aren’t preferable.

Furthermore, when suspended solids are due to organic material (sewage effluent or decaying organic matter), then there is an increased likelihood that bacteria and protozoa viruses are present.

bulletHuman concerns

There are a number of human-related concerns when it comes to suspended solids.

Humans need an uncontaminated source of drinking water.

Decomposing matter, sewage effluent, heavy metals, and microbes can harm human health.

For instance, pathogens can contribute to waterborne diseases like cryptosporidiosis, cholera, and giardiasis.

Additionally, turbid (cloudy and opaque) water can be difficult to disinfect.

In the end, this type of water can also clog tanks and pipes and damage machines attempting to process them.

11. What contributes to suspended solids?

Suspended solids often exist due to natural causes, but humans are increasingly responsible for high levels in water bodies.

Here are some of the top substances that increase the risk of suspended solids.

bulletAlgae

Algae are plantlike and photosynthesizing organisms.

They thrive in both freshwater and saltwater, so why would they contribute to suspended solids?

The most obvious examples of how they contribute to turbidity are algae blooms.

This is when an excess of algae grows quickly across the surface of a body of water.

Algal blooms occur due to an influx of agricultural runoff or decomposition.

Warmer water temperatures and longer daylight hours can both contribute to their growth as well.

When algal blooms float on top of the water, they can block sunlight, release toxins, and deplete oxygen levels in a body of water.

bulletSediment: Runoff and Erosion

“Sediment” is any material that can be transported by water, wind, or ice.

More often, it’s defined as soil particles that are deposited on the bottom of a body of water such as silt, clay, or sand.

Most suspended sediment in water comes from runoff and erosion and is often exacerbated by human activities such as development.

Constant water flow can also cause an increase in suspended solids because it’s constantly picking up particles.

bulletPollution

Pollution is any potentially harmful substance that’s added to the environment by humans.

These substances can be deposited both directly and indirectly.

Common suspended solid pollutants include pathogens, microbeads, wastewater effluent, sewage, airborne particulates, and road particles.

While nitrates and phosphorus are dissolved substances, they are also pollutants that cause eutrophication (excessive plant and algae growth).

It’s worth keeping in mind that, like nitrates and phosphorus, many pollutants can enter water as dissolved substances and then find other grains of soil or larger pieces of pollution to “ride along with.”

Thus, it’s critical to find ways to stop them from entering the system altogether.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve noticed a change in water on your land, consider getting the TSS tested.

This will help you understand the total suspended solids in the water and how you can move forward.

You always want to make sure the quality is appropriate for whatever you use that water for.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

Erika

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