Compliance Assistance

Giving Pollutants the Pretreatment

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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Where in the world is EPA?

By Christina Catanese

Click here to view a map of EPA projects throughout the worldMost of our activities in EPA Region 3 are focused on just that – our region of Mid-Atlantic states.  But water issues are not confined to one geographic area, and environmental boundaries frequently cross political boundaries – try telling a river it needs a passport to flow from one country to another!  Since water issues are so varied in different areas (and consequently managed much differently), it’s always beneficial to hear about what people are working on in other parts of the country and the world.

On November 4th, a number of EPA representatives attended the 4th annual conference of the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative for that very purpose.  EPA is a collaborator in this network of water professionals in Philadelphia and beyond (including non-governmental organizations, government organizations, universities, and the public) who share a common goal of addressing water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges around the world.  Talk about healthy waters on a large scale!

The theme of this year’s conference was “Managing the Last 1%: Allocating Water to Meet the UN Millennium Development Goals,” a reference to the fact that out of all the water on Earth, only 1% is available for human use and consumption.  I know that seems unbelievable, since we have always learned that the Earth is over 75% water, a characteristic that has earned it the nickname “The Blue Planet.”  But when you consider that oceans are nearly 98% of the Earth’s water resources (which we can’t drink), and about half of the remaining percentage is tied up in glaciers and icecaps, only 1% is left in surface water and groundwater, the only kind we can use for our water supply.  Plus, did you know that 1 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean water, and over 2.5 billion people have inadequate access to improved sanitation facilities?  We don’t often think about it, but there actually is a global shortage of water for people and the environment.

Being aware of this massive water shortage, the participants at the conference discussed the challenges of managing limited water supplies and shared their experiences of success and obstacles.  Speakers talked about their work in diverse places like China, South Africa, Guatemala, Bangladesh, and the Mid-Atlantic’s very own Delaware River Basin.  The work they discussed was fascinating and included:

– installing wells and gardens at schools in developing countries,

-creating basin commissions to manage large interstate watersheds (like the Delaware River Basin Commission)

-evaluating the cost-effectiveness of various water supply and demand measures,

-how water and energy issues are related

-“virtual water” and agricultural water use

-protecting ecosystems and the services they provide us

-corporate strategies to reduce water use

If you missed out on this year’s conference, you can still view the presentations by the speakers.

You might also be surprised to hear that EPA does some international work Presently, a cadre of Mid-Atlantic Region employees is working with the Moroccan Ministry of Environment on developing an enforcement and compliance program whose initial focus has been wastewater discharges.   Phase I of the program saw the development of a wastewater discharge permit application, a basic permit which can be modified based on the permit to be issued, and a permit writers manual.  In addition, the project worked on enforcement by creating an inspection guidance which focused on wastewater dischargers.  Phase II of the project, which has just started, will continue these efforts by developing a permitting and enforcement strategy for wastewater dischargers, address organizational issues, and expand the effort into air and solid waste.   There are also some Mid-Atlantic personnel working with the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua on wastewater permitting issues.  They have provided training and technical assistance to a wide range of stakeholders in various government agencies to help develop a permitting and enforcement system for wastewater dischargers.  Learn about EPA’s water work internationally beyond the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Have you heard of any ways that other countries manage their water resources differently than we do?  What issues are you most interested in on an international scale?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Flushed with Success

If your wastewater treatment plant is following the rules of what it can discharge into your local river, chances are there’s a good operator behind the controls.

And that’s important, because the river receiving the discharge could be the same one that’s supplying the water that’s treated and sent to your faucet.

I’ve found in visiting these plants and providing training, that a qualified operator can make a world of difference in the performance of a facility. In fact, I’d say that of the small treatment plants that are violating their permits, three quarters could be brought into compliance with better-trained operators.

It’s one thing to be certified to run a wastewater treatment plant. It’s another to actually run it efficiently. Operators need to know a good mix of biology, chemistry, math, computers, electricity and mechanics to do the job well. And a college degree is generally not required.

In my wastewater training program for interns at EPA, I’ve done road trips to various plants to give the new hires an appreciation for the role of operators. After these visits, the interns really got a good sense of what it means to run a well managed facility that stays in compliance with federal and state laws.

Are you familiar with how your local wastewater treatment plant operates? Here’s some general information available on EPA’s web site. http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/watewastewater.html

About the author: Jim Kern works for the Water Protection Division in EPA Region 3. He recently won the region’s Instructor of the Year award for designing and delivering a program to educate regional employees on wastewater treatment.

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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