Crucial pH Influence in Water Treatment: A Profound Insight

In the vast realm of water treatment, pH emerges as a key player, directly influencing the quality and chemical reactions of water. pH, an abbreviation for "potential of hydrogen," defines the acidity or alkalinity of a solution based on the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). This crucial measurement, assessed on a scale from 0 to 14, unveils the solubility of chemical compounds in water. It holds significant sway over various biological and chemical processes, from precipitate formation to the survival of aquatic organisms.

In water treatment, precise control and adjustment of pH are imperative to ensure optimal outcomes. Whether in the purification of drinking water, where pH influences the coagulation of suspended particles, or in wastewater treatment, where it governs the degradation of organic matter, pH remains a critical indicator. pH adjustment is essential to meet drinking water standards and minimize environmental impact across various industrial sectors. All in all, pH stands as an indispensable parameter in the realm of water treatment, shaping pivotal chemical and biological responses crucial to the health of our ecosystems and population.


The pH Effect on Water Treatment

pH, short for "potential of hydrogen," is a measure that expresses the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. It is determined by the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) present in this solution. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, where 7 is considered neutral, below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is basic or alkaline.

In the context of water, pH is a critical parameter and significantly influences its quality and chemical reactivity. Water is a universal solvent, and its reactivity is strongly influenced by its pH. Several chemical and biological processes are directly related to the pH of water, making it a crucial indicator in water treatment.


Firstly, pH affects the solubility of chemical compounds in water. Certain minerals, metals, and organic compounds are more soluble under acidic or basic conditions, which can influence their presence in water and their impact on the environment.


Furthermore, many biological processes depend on the pH of the water. Aquatic organisms, such as fish and microorganisms, have pH ranges within which they can survive and function properly. Inappropriate pH can disrupt their metabolism, reproduction, and even their survival.


In the context of water treatment, pH control is paramount. It is often necessary to adjust the pH of the water to optimize treatment efficiency. For example, the coagulation-flocculation process, used to remove suspended particles in water, is influenced by pH. Optimal pH promotes the formation of flocs, thus enhancing the water purification process.


Moreover, in wastewater treatment, pH needs to be adjusted before certain stages, such as denitrification or phosphate removal, to ensure the effectiveness of chemical reactions.


pH Standards for Drinking Water and Local Considerations

 The pH of raw water, coming from various sources such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater, can vary due to various environmental and geological factors.


Rivers and Lakes:

  • Rivers and lakes can receive inputs from groundwater, precipitation, runoff, industrial, or municipal discharges, which can influence their pH.
  • Precipitations can be slightly acidic (pH below 7) due to the presence of carbon dioxide, which forms carbonic acid when mixed with water.
  • Human activities can introduce acidic or basic substances into these water sources, thus affecting their pH.



  • The pH of groundwater can vary depending on the geological composition of the soil and rocks through which the groundwater travels.
  • The dissolution of minerals in the soil can make the water more acidic or basic.

To meet potability standards, the water often needs to be treated to adjust its pH and ensure it falls within a safe range. pH adjustment can occur at several stages of water treatment:


pH Correction

- pH adjustment can be achieved by adding appropriate chemicals such as bases (e.g., sodium hydroxide, lime) to raise the pH or acids (e.g., sulfuric acid) to lower it.

- In the case of acidic raw water, bases can be added to neutralize the acidity and raise the pH to an accepted range for drinking water.


Impurity Removal:

- Some water treatments, such as coagulation-flocculation, filtration, and disinfection, can influence pH by removing compounds that can alter it.


Continuous Monitoring:

  • Continuous monitoring systems are often in place to track the pH of water throughout the treatment process. This allows for real-time adjustments if needed. 

The goal of pH adjustment is to ensure that drinking water is slightly alkaline (pH around 7 to 8.5), as this is generally considered optimal for human health and to prevent corrosion of water pipes. However, precise standards may vary depending on local regulations and the specific needs of the served population.


Chlorination and pH: A Delicate Balance

Influence of pH on Chlorination:

  • Formation of Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl): when water is chlorinated, chlorine reacts with water to form hypochlorite (OCl-) and hypochlorous acid (HOCl). Hypochlorous acid (HOCl) is the active form of chlorine that is effective in killing pathogenic microorganisms. pH influences the proportion of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) versus hypochlorite (OCl-). At lower pH levels, more hypochlorous acid (HOCl) is present, enhancing disinfection effectiveness.
  • Chemical Equilibrium: at higher pH levels, the chemical equilibrium favors the formation of hypochlorite ion (OCl-). However, hypochlorite ion is less effective than hypochlorous acid (HOCl) in killing microorganisms.


pH Adjustment to Maximize Chlorination Efficiency:

  • pH Reduction: to maximize chlorination efficiency, the pH of water can be reduced to a level where the majority of the present chlorine is in the form of hypochlorous acid (HOCl). This can be achieved by adding acids such as sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid.
  • Maintenance within Optimal Range: The pH must be maintained within a specific range, typically between 6.5 and 7.5, to ensure that hypochlorous acid (HOCl) is predominant and thus more effective for disinfection. This may require regular pH adjustments during the water treatment process.
  • Continuous Control: Automated monitoring systems continuously monitor the pH of water and automatically adjust the addition of alkaline or acidic substances to maintain the pH within the target range. This ensures effective disinfection while minimizing chemical wastage.

It's essential to note that the balance between hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hypochlorite ion (OCl-) depends not only on pH but also on the total chlorine concentration and water temperature. Operators of water treatment facilities must, therefore, precisely adjust these parameters to ensure optimal disinfection while adhering to drinking water potability standards.


pH and Alkalinity

pH and alkalinity are two important chemical properties of water that are closely related but distinct.

The alkalinity of water measures its ability to neutralize acids. It is primarily due to the presence of bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides dissolved in the water. Alkalinity is expressed in terms of equivalent calcium carbonate (CaCO₃) in milligrams per liter (mg/L). 

Now, here's how pH affects the alkalinity of water:

  •  As the pH increases (becomes more basic), hydrogen carbonate ions (HCO₃⁻) convert to carbonate ions (CO₃²⁻). This means that the total alkalinity, usually expressed in bicarbonates and carbonates, increases as the pH rises.
  • At a lower pH (acidic), carbonate ions (CO₃²⁻) react to form hydrogen carbonate ions (HCO₃⁻), thereby reducing the total alkalinity.


In summary, the alkalinity of water is directly influenced by pH: higher pH leads to higher alkalinity, while lower pH leads to lower alkalinity. This is due to the chemical equilibria between different ionic species in water depending on the pH.

Furthermore, when the pH of water is too basic, the alkaline compounds in the water tend to create efficiency issues in reverse osmosis systems. Indeed, carbonate ions (CO₃²⁻) are not removed by reverse osmosis and are not detected in conductivity tests. The issue with these compounds is that they do not affect conductivity. Therefore, reverse osmosis may appear to function adequately. Problems typically arise when an additional ion exchange treatment is installed after reverse osmosis. For instance, if an electrodeionization system is installed downstream, carbonate ions (CO₃²⁻) tend to foul the anion exchange resins.


Chemistry of pH: Profound Influence in Wastewater Treatment

pH plays a critical role in various biological, chemical, and physical processes used in wastewater treatment. Its influence is extensive and can affect the overall performance of wastewater treatment. Here's how pH influences these processes:

1.Biological Processes:

  • Microbial degradation: Microorganisms responsible for degrading organic matter in wastewater have pH ranges in which they are most active. Inappropriate pH can slow down their metabolic activity and reduce the efficiency of degrading organic contaminants.
  • Nitrification and denitrification: These biological processes involve bacteria that convert ammonium to nitrate and reduce nitrate to nitrogen gas, respectively. These bacteria have preferred pH ranges for their optimal activity. Improper pH can inhibit these processes, delaying nitrogen treatment.
  • Methanization: In the anaerobic stages of wastewater treatment, where bacteria produce biogas from organic matter, pH needs to be maintained within a specific range. Incorrect pH can disrupt the balance of microorganisms involved in this process.


2. Chemical Processes:

  •  Coagulation-flocculation: pH affects the charge of suspended particles and the performance of coagulants. pH adjustment can promote the aggregation of particles into larger flocs, facilitating their removal.
  • Precipitation: In the chemical precipitation process, pH is crucial for causing the formation of insoluble precipitates from dissolved compounds. The right pH is needed to obtain solid and easily separable precipitates.


3. Physical Processes:

  •  Adsorption: Some adsorption processes, like adsorption on activated carbon, are influenced by pH. pH can affect the surface charge of particles and hence the efficiency of adsorption of contaminants.
  • Oxidation: Some treatments involve chemical oxidation to remove contaminants. pH can influence the rate and efficiency of these oxidation reactions.

 In other words, pH is a crucial parameter in wastewater treatment, as it significantly influences the performance of biological, chemical, and physical processes. Maintaining pH within appropriate ranges is essential to ensure optimal wastewater treatment efficiency, meet discharge standards, and preserve the environment. pH adjustments are thus made precisely throughout the wastewater treatment process to achieve these goals.


pH in Industry: Precise Adjustment for Success

1. Chemical Industry:

  •  Manufacturing Processes: In the chemical industry, pH can be adjusted for various manufacturing processes. For example, in chemical synthesis, pH can influence the rate and yield of chemical reactions.
  • Neutralization: Chemical effluents can be highly acidic or basic, requiring neutralization before disposal. Alkaline or acidic substances can be added to achieve an acceptable pH before discharge into the sewage system or the environment.
  • Reaction Control: pH is often used to control and stabilize chemical reactions in industrial processes. Some reactants react optimally within specific pH ranges.


2. Food and Beverage Industry:

  •  Food Processing: pH is crucial in food processing to ensure food safety and quality. It can be adjusted to extend shelf life, enhance texture, and improve the taste of food products.
  • Fermentation: In the production of products such as beer, yogurt, and cheese, pH is adjusted to create optimal conditions for the microorganisms involved in fermentation.
  • Food Preservation: pH adjustment is commonly used in canning and food preservation to prevent bacterial growth and extend shelf life.


3. Mining Industry:

  •  Leaching: In metal extraction, leaching is a crucial step. pH is controlled and adjusted to maximize leaching efficiency and metal extraction.
  • Treatment of Mining Wastes: pH is often adjusted in the treatment of mining wastes to minimize environmental risks. Controlled pH can reduce the solubility of heavy metals and decrease their migration into groundwater.
  • Effluent Treatment: Mining industry effluents can be highly acidic due to the presence of minerals. pH adjustments are necessary to neutralize these effluents before discharge.

Therefore, pH adjustment is crucial in various industries to ensure the efficiency of production processes, product safety, and compliance with environmental standards. Monitoring and adjusting pH accurately is essential to optimize industrial operations and minimize environmental impact.


pH in Water Treatment: Chemical Harmony for a Sustainable Future

 In conclusion, the role of pH in water treatment is undeniable, revealing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution and thus shaping its chemical behavior. This measurement deeply impacts the solubility of compounds, the survival of aquatic organisms


, and the efficiency of chemical purification processes. In a world where water is a precious resource, its optimal treatment is essential to ensure its quality, safety, and availability.


Whether in the pursuit of potable water that complies with health standards or in the responsible management of wastewater, adjusting pH emerges as an indispensable necessity. Processes such as coagulation-flocculation, precipitation, and biotreatment are examples. Each nuance of pH thus becomes a lever to optimize these processes, thereby contributing to preserving our ecosystems and our well-being.


Ultimately, mastering pH in water treatment represents a subtle art, a delicate balance that requires expertise and technology. In this quest for cleaner and safer water, pH remains a constant, an essential compass guiding our action towards a sustainable and healthy future.


In the vast domain of water treatment, pH proves to be a crucial element, determining the quality and chemical reactions of water. This measurement, expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution, profoundly impacts the solubility of compounds, the survival of aquatic organisms, and the efficiency of treatments. Across various sectors, from drinking water treatment to wastewater treatment, precise control of pH is imperative to comply with drinking water standards and minimize environmental impact. The subtle adjustment of pH thus represents an essential art, shaping a sustainable future where water chemistry and the needs of our ecosystems coexist in harmony.

Whether we are talking about regulation, use or contamination, pharmaceutical water is particularly prone to complications.