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Giving Pollutants the Pretreatment

2012 February 23

By Steve Copeland

Industry needs a place to send the wastewater it produces. But, conventional wastewater treatment plants can’t handle hazardous industrial pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants can pass right through wastewater treatment plants untreated and discharge to rivers and streams, which can harm aquatic life and human health.  These untreated pollutants can also interfere with the functioning of the wastewater treatment plants so that they are unable to do what they are designed for — treating sewage.

 In order to prevent these problems, the Clean Water Act requires industrial users of wastewater treatment plants to have permits requiring their discharges to be effectively pretreated. EPA works closely with state and local governments ensuring that industries treat their own wastewater before it makes its way to larger treatment plants.

 Effective pretreatment protects our waters so they are safe for swimming, fishing, and drinking.  For example, pretreatment can neutralize the acidity of the wastewater, strip out harmful metals, or dilute the wastewater before it is discharged so that it is no longer harmful. To comply with their permits, industrial users must remove these pollutants before sending their wastewater to sewer systems because wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove these harmful compounds.

 EPA provides training to wastewater pretreatment plant operators on developing successful pretreatment programs. The operators who attend the training and conferences we sponsor have indicated these sessions enable them to implement effective treatment programs.  This is another example of EPA reaching out to industry and local governments,  and working with them to protect public health and the environment.

 Visit this link and click on the “Pretreatment” tab for more information about pretreatment in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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