One of the first things that is noticed about water is its clarity. The clarity of water is usually measured by its turbidity. Turbidity is a measure of the extent to which light is either absorbed or scattered by suspended material in water. Both the size and surface characteristics of the suspended material influence absorption and scattering.

Although algae blooms can make waters turbid, in surface water most turbidity is related to the smaller inorganic components of the suspended solids burden, primarily the clay particles. Microorganisms and vegetable material may also contribute to turbidity. Wastewaters from industry and households usually contain a wide variety of turbidity-producing materials. Detergents, soaps, and various emulsifying agents contribute to turbidity.

In water treatment, turbidity is useful in defining drinking-water quality. In wastewater treatment, turbidity measurements are particularly important whenever ultraviolet (UV) radiation is used in the disinfection process. For UV to be effective in disinfecting wastewater effluent, UV light must be able to penetrate the stream flow. Obviously, stream flow that is turbid works to reduce the effectiveness of irradiation (penetration of light).

The colloidal material associated with turbidity provides adsorption sites for microorganisms and chemicals that may be harmful or cause undesirable tastes and odors. Moreover, the adsorptive characteristics of many colloids work to provide protection sites for microorganisms from disinfection processes. Turbidity in running waters interferes with light penetration and photosynthetic reactions.

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