Flocculation is a process which clarifies the water. Clarifying means removing any turbidity or colour so that the water is clear and colourless. Clarification is done by causing a precipitate to form in the water which can be removed using simple physical methods. Initially the precipitate forms as very small particles but as the water is gently stirred, these particles stick together to form bigger particles - this process is sometimes called flocculation. Many of the small particles that were originally present in the raw water adsorb onto the surface of these small precipitate particles and so get incorporated into the larger particles that coagulation produces. In this way the coagulated precipitate takes most of the suspended matter out of the water and is then filtered off, generally by passing the mixture through a coarse sand filter or sometimes through a mixture of sand and granulated anthracite (high carbon and low volatiles coal). Coagulants / flocculating agents that may be used include:

Iron (III) hydroxide. This is formed by adding a solution of an iron (III) compound such as iron(III) chloride to pre-treated water with a pH of 7 or greater. Iron (III) hydroxide is extremely insoluble and forms even at a pH as low as 7. Commercial formulations of iron salts were traditionally marketed in the UK under the name Cuprus.

Aluminium hydroxide is also widely used as the flocculating precipitate although there have been concerns about possible health impacts and mis-handling led to a severe poisoning incident in 1988 at Camelford in south-west UK when the coagulant was introduced directly into the holding reservoir of final treated water.

PolyDADMAC is an artificially produced polymer and is one of a class of synthetic polymers that are now widely used. These polymers have a high molecular weight and form very stable and readily removed flocs, but tend to be more expensive in use compared to inorganic materials. The materials can also be biodegradable.

Floc floating at the surface of a basin

Mechanical system to push floc out of the water basin



Related Publications

Flocs in Water Treatment - David H Bache, Ross Gregory 
Publication Date: Nov 2007 - ISBN - 9781843390633

Coagulation and Flocculation in Water and Wastewater Treatment - John Bratby 
Publication Date: Oct 2006 - ISBN - 9781843391067

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