Environmental impact of seawater desalination plants

Environ Monit Assess. 1991 Jan;16(1):75-84. doi: 10.1007/BF00399594.


Enormous amounts of seawater are desalted everyday worldwide. The total world production of fresh water from the sea is about 2621 mgd (9.92 million m(3) day(-1) 1985 figures). Desalting processes are normally associated with the rejection of high concentration waste brine from the plant itself or from the pretreatment units as well as during the cleaning period. In thermal processes, mainly multistage flash (MSF) thermal pollution occurs. These pollutants increase the seawater temperature, salinity, water current and turbidity. They also harm the marine environment, causing fish to migrate while enhancing the presence of algae, nematods and tiny molluscus. Sometimes micro-elements and toxic materials appear in the discharged brine.This paper will discuss the impact of the effluents from the desalination plants on the seawater environment with particular reference to the Saudi desalination plants, since they account for about 50% of the world desalination capacity.