Whether you own, operate, or help manage a municipal or industrial facility that deals with wastewater, it’s important to understand how wastewater treatment can play a significant role in the overall health of your business. This is an important part of the process to consider, as ignoring it could earn your company various fines or lawsuits and pose a potential threat to public health.
This article breaks down the importance of wastewater treatment for your facility and whether it’s necessary by examining some of the most common wastewater contaminants and possible outcomes if left untreated in addition to required permits and effluent regulations:
What kind of pollutants can you find in wastewater?
Wastewater is the byproduct of plant processes and uses, so the pollutants present in the wastewater stream will vary depending on what it is exposed to. Some common contaminants include:
Biochemical oxygen demand
Biochemical oxygen demand, or BOD, refers to the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic biological organisms to break down organic matter into smaller molecules. High levels of BOD indicate an elevated concentration of biodegradable material present in the wastewater and can be caused by the introduction of pollutants such as fecal waste or fertilizer runoff. It can also be elevated by organic waste, whether by domestic or industrial sources. When these levels are elevated, this can deplete the oxygen needed by other aquatic organisms to live, leading to algal blooms, fish kills, and harmful changes to the aquatic ecosystem where the wastewater is discharged.
Nitrates and phosphates
If large amounts of nitrates and/or phosphates are not removed from wastewater and these nutrients are discharged into local environments, they can increase the BOD and lead to extensive weed growth, algae, and phytoplankton. This can lead to eutrophication, or the deoxygenation in a body of water, killing the organisms and potentially leading to hypoxia or environmental dead zones. They can enter the wastewater stream a variety of ways, including human and food waste, detergents, and pesticides.
Pathogens are bacteria, viruses, fungi, or any other microorganisms that can be present in wastewater that can lead to all kinds of health issues, including acute sickness, severe digestive problems, or death. When domestic or industrial wastewater contains these harmful pathogens and is not treated, it can spread illnesses and diseases such as cholera, dysentery, salmonellosis, hepatitis A, botulism, and giardiasis, to name a few. Humans are most likely to ingest pathogens by drinking and/or eating contaminated beverages and/or food.
Mostly found in wastewater as a result of various industries, manufacturing processes, and household piping, when left in wastewater in high concentrations, metals can cause extensive damage to the environment and human health. They are particularly damaging because they don’t break down and tend to accumulate, causing toxic environs.
Some of the more common metals found in wastewater are outlined below along with their potential effect on humans and the environment. The mentioned effects are according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
- Cadmium; often used in manufacturing batteries, pigments, and platings, in humans, this metal can lead to lung damage, gastrointestinal issues, kidney damage, and death. It has also been linked to lung cancer.
- Chromium; this metal, often used to make various metal alloys (such as stainless steel) can cause skin irritations, difficulty breathing, ulcers, anemia, and harm to the male reproductive system. It is labeled as a carcinogen.
- Copper; found in electrical wiring, pipes, sheet metal, etc., copper can also be used to treat plant disease, for water treatment, or as a preservative. Copper, in high doses, can cause irritation of the nose, mouth, and eyes. It can also induce headaches, dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Lead; commonly found in pipes and storage batteries, among others, lead contamination can lead to serious health issues in both children and adults.
- Manganese; used in steel production to improve hardness and strength, manganese can also be used in the production of batteries paints, and cosmetics. Exposure to manganese in large quantities can cause damage to the nervous system, leading to slowness and behavioral changes/poor concentration.
- Mercury; often entering the atmosphere from mining deposits, the emissions of coal-fired power plants, burning municipal and medical waste, the production of cement, and uncontrolled releases in factories that use mercury, the metal can lead to damage of the brain and nervous system and is very toxic to the human body.
Total suspended solids
Total suspended solids (TSS) in wastewater, the organic and inorganic solid material suspended in the water, can, like many of the other contaminants listed, harm aquatic life. They can also be problematic if the wastewater is being reused for a process, so depending on whether or not you need to discharge your wastewater in a publicly owned treatment works (POTW) or environment, or reuse the wastewater for process, will determine how harmful the TSS will be. TSS can decrease levels of oxygen in aquatic environments and kill of insects. They can also scale and foul piping and machinery.
Total dissolved solids
Total dissolved solids (TDS) are any anions, cations, metals, minerals, or salts found in wastewater. They can cause issues with aquatic life, irrigation and crops, and they can also seep into groundwater. TDS can be generated in wastewater from just about any industry.
When pesticides and other chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, they can be transmitted to humans and the environment through wastewater, causing damage to the environment and human health. Some common chemicals found in wastewater include diethylstilbestrol, dioxin, PCBs, DDT, and other pesticides. These “endocrine disruptors” can block hormones in the body and affect the functions these hormones control.
What are wastewater treatment options and regulations to be mindful of?
When it comes to handling wastewater, depending on what your facility is doing with the water will how you’re going to treat it. A few common scenarios are described below:
Reusing/recycling wastewater for your process
Treating your wastewater to recycle/reuse it can be especially helpful in areas with low water resources (for example, California that is currently experiencing a drought). In addition to conserving water, this can help your facility save on connection fees that might be extremely high due to the shortages. Your wastewater treatment options, in this case, will depend on what contaminants are present because of your production process or whether you operate a municipal facility. It is important to be aware of the treatment necessary to ensure efficient water recovery.
Releasing wastewater into the environment
If your facility plans to release your wastewater into the environment in the United States, you will need to do so under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System or NPDES permit. These permits, enforced under the Clean Water Act, places limitations on what can be discharged, sets requirements for reports and monitoring, and is put in place to ensure pollutants are not released in harmful amounts. Your local regulations and the contaminants present in your wastewater will determine what treatment is necessary for your facility. The EPA operates 10 different offices in the country that address different regions, so to make sure your facility is complying with local regulations, be sure to check in with your local NPDES representatives. Failure to meet requirements could incur heavy fines.
Discharging wastewater into the local municipality
Your local municipality might take your effluent, but chances are they’ll want you to clean it first. Check with your local publicly owned treatment works (POTW) to be sure you’re meeting their qualifications. Your wastewater treatment will need to remove the contaminants they don’t allow or, again, it can cost you thousands of dollars in fines down the road.
Do you need to treat your wastewater?
Because failing to treat your wastewater can potentially harm the environment, human health, and your process, in addition to preventing your facility from meeting local POTW or NPDES discharge regulations and causing your facility to incur heavy fines and possible legal action, it is strongly advisable that you take the proper steps to ensure the proper treatment of your wastewater before it’s recycled/reused and or discharged into the environment or POTW.
SAMCO has over 40 years’ experience custom-designing and manufacturing wastewater treatment systems, so please feel free to reach out to us with your questions. For more information or to get in touch, contact us here. You can also visit our website to set up a call with an engineer or request a quote. We can walk you through the steps for developing the proper solution and realistic cost for your wastewater treatment system needs.
Some other articles about wastewater treatment systems you might be interested in include:
- What is a Wastewater Treatment System and How Does it Work?
- How Do You Know If An Industrial Facility Needs a Wastewater Treatment System?
- How to Choose the Best Wastewater Treatment System for Your Plant
- Seven Ways Your Facility Isn’t Meeting Effluent Regulations and How to Solve Them
- 9 of the Best Industrial Wastewater Treatment Equipment Supply and Technology Companies
- What Is a Wastewater Treatability Study and How Does it Work?
- How Much Does a Water/Wastewater Treatability Study Cost for Your Plant?
- What Are the New Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines and What Do They Mean for Your Plant?
- How Much Does a Wastewater Treatment System Cost? (Pricing, Factors, Etc.)