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Wastewater Surcharge Study

As defined by the EPA, “Surcharges are additional charges to recover the cost to treat wastewater that are typically assessed when discharge concentrations are above defined values, typically above domestic wastewater.” 

 As defined by the EPA, “Surcharges are additional charges to recover the cost to treat wastewater that are typically assessed when discharge concentrations are above defined values, typically above domestic wastewater.” 

Why are surcharges significant at my plant? Most plants that do not have their own final discharge plant may pretreat and others may completely send their wastewater to a municipality. Industrial plants often send high BOD or TSS loadings to their local municipality wastewater treatment plants. This may account for huge surcharges that are unfortunately unavoidable at times if they go over their permit limits. The municipality’s goal is to treat the city's water at the lowest cost possible. A typical cost to a pretreatment customer usually is made up of a number of components. There may be a base charge for flow, then additional charges for TSS, BOD, ammonia or amines. There may be limits on metals or other specific chemistries. With a chemical industry, there may be isolated compounds that are limited if they are very hard to break down. Fats, oil and grease may be a big component, since this can cause foaming and filamentous problems at a municipality. Some other areas that might be of concern include Corrosives (pH), Flammable or Explosive Materials, High strength Organic Compounds, Hydrogen Sulfide, Solids & Food Waste, High Temperature streams, Dental office waste and mercury.

Actually, to municipalities, many times a pretreatment customer can be a nightmare. Most municipalities are designed for a flow of low BOD and high ammonia. The plant needs to run a very old sludge age in order for their nitrifiers to achieve complete conversion of ammonia to nitrate. When industrial facilities contribute to the incoming stream, the make-up of the influent is quite different. Oftentimes, the BOD is very high, but with occasional swings only. This can interrupt the nitrification cycle, or stop it completely if the BOD is very high and all the ammonia is consumed instead by the carbon bacteria. High BOD can impact oxygen levels and even alkalinity sometimes, which can impact nitrifiers. Some plants do not have to nitrify, and instead have to supplement nutrients if the incoming BOD is high from a pretreatment customer. If there are major swings, additional work to try to control the system must also be performed; additional testing, additional treatment of chemicals and an increase in sludge that needs to be hauled off; all can be a result from wide swings in pretreatment streams.

What is the cost of non-compliance?

Costs may include additional surcharges, sampling fees, lab fees, fees for testing, fees for enforcement, fees for administration and violation penalties. Some municipalities have fines of up to $50,000 per violation per day. Companies with discharge or permit violations are subject to fines of up to $10,000 per violation per day. Dischargers are also liable for any damages and additional costs caused by their discharges. Noncompliance on a pretreatment permit has sometimes caused municipalities to force a plant to install permanent pretreatment equipment. Costs may include additional handling fees, legal fees, accounting fees, etc. 

Type of Industries that are required to pretreat or disclose what they are sending to a POTW plant and are typically subject to surcharge fees include: Bakeries, Food processing, Breweries and wineries, Meat and fish processing, Commercial laundries, Soft drink bottlers, Dairy products, Landfill leachate, Vac trucks, hospitals, Aquatic animal production, Tanker truck cleaning and car washes or any type of remediation facility. Sewer costs may vary but most average approximately $1.50 per thousand gallons and can range from $0.20 to about $8.00 per thousand gallons. Surcharges for BOD5 could range from $0.025 to up to $3.00 per pound!

Local limitations vs. Federal limitations

Local limitations- The EPA now provides a Technically-Based Local Limits Guidance Manual for municipalities that operate pretreatment programs. This manual provides guidance to municipalities on the development and implementation of local controls for discharges of industrial or commercial wastes to sewage treatment facilities. The manual provides technical assistance and guidance on: Determining pollutants of concern, collecting and analyzing data, calculating maximum allowable loadings, designating and implementing local limits to protect wastewater treatment and collection systems and performing annual reviews and periodic re-evaluations.

Federal limitations- While your municipality may include some of their own limitations, they all must follow federal limitations. Title 40--Protection of Environment Chapter I—Environmental Protection Agency Part 403--general pretreatment regulations for existing and new sources of pollution. The federal government has established discharge limits for specific industries, called categorical dischargers. Categorical industries include the following: Aluminum forming Metal foundries, Battery manufacturing, Nonferrous metal manufacturing, Coil coating, Pesticide manufacturing, Copper forming, Petroleum refining, Electrical/electronic components, Pharmaceutical manufacturing, Electroplating Circuit-board manufacturing, Porcelain enameling Iron/steel manufacturing, Pulp/paper mills, Leather tanning finishing, Wood preserving, Metal finishing, Inorganic chemical manufacturing and centralized waste treatment

Pretreatment is an important factor in avoiding expensive surcharges. So, as a pretreatment customer to a municipality, what are some ways to lower surcharges? The first thing is to perform analyses and testing to know exactly what you are sending to the POTW plant so there are no "surprises". Nothing is worse than an "oops" that is found out after the fact than by an initial warning. Municipalities know you will have process problems, need to send more sometimes or even have an upset at the plant or a spill. Their biggest concern is knowing what is coming, and then they can decide how to react to whatever is being sent to them. Preparation is always an easier route to take than reactionary measures. It may sound relatively simple and easy, but it is very important to the municipality.

What are some of the pretreatment options that can help to lower surcharges? Sometimes operating an industrial wastewater pretreatment facility can be more or less expensive than discharging raw wastes to the local municipality. Obviously, an evaluation study of your plants’ waste load and calculation of the treatment cost per pound of waste removed should be performed. Monitoring of the plant to measure water use, waste load discharged, biomass (sludge) produced by the pretreatment facility, and all costs. Pretreatment costs can be calculated by totaling costs for interest, depreciation, maintenance, labor, biomass disposal, power, and management. These computations can be simplified by entering the data into a computer spreadsheet program that calculates loads, removal rates, efficiencies, running averages, and ratios. To obtain total waste treatment costs, municipal sewer charges and surcharges need to be added to the pretreatment costs.

Point stream isolation

 Some plants install high or low strength segregation systems for individual process lines. This allows low strength process wastewater to discharge to the plant sewer and high strength to be pretreated at a lower volume. Smaller vessels are needed and pretreatment is more efficient and effective on a lower volume basis with just specific treatment needs. Sometimes just increasing air and mixing upstream to lower septicity and COD can make a huge impact.

Flow Equalization- Sometimes something as simple as an Equalization tank can make flows to the POTW even out the flow and can protect against surges or slug loadings that might interfere or be incompatible with the POTW. Some plants have wide swings in pH, BOD, etc. By simply adding a storage tank for equalization, streams are mixed and flows, pH and/or compounds are evenly mixed and lowered than previously slug feeding toxic or high strength streams. Minimal capital cost is required and no additional monitor and control is usually necessary. Adding a small tank with a blower to set up pretreatment and adjust pH is one way to help with pretreatment. There may be a variety of pieces of equipment depending upon your plant processes. These may include any or all of the various options available for treatment including water softening, ion exchange, Activated carbon, oil/water separation, sedimentation or Gravity separation, aerobic or anaerobic biological treatment, Chlorination, UV and ozone treatment, sand filtration, and "mixed bed" deionization. These pieces of equipment can be utilized to treat most types of wastewater to meet stringent pretreatment standards or eliminate costly sewer surcharges. Adding N and P as a pretreatment strategy can be implemented in these pieces of equipment as well.

Beneficial reuse- What are you sending to the wastewater treatment plant? Are there streams at your plant that even though you might consider them waste, they might be a raw component to some other plant or of use elsewhere? There are numerous government grants, programs, loans and awards for development of a Beneficial Reuse or Recycling program at your plant. Any time you can make changes to the existing plant process that can reduce water and waste prior to discharge; the savings will be significantly larger. Some things to consider: Cut waste to reduce Wastewater Surcharges, implement a waste reduction program, implement a proactive maintenance schedule, recycle and reuse or streams, automation, Gray water reuse, reuse of cooling water, especially if it is non-contact, use high pressure rather than high volume for cleaning surfaces, install automatic control valves, etc. Adding a DAF on site for beneficial reuse has proven to be effective at many facilities

We have worked with many food plants, orange juice plants, dairies, candy and frosting factories, lawn mower blade factories, soap factories, Ceiling tile factories, textile mills and many more that have all needed to reduce BOD and TSS prior to discharge to a local POTW. Significant savings have been realized at all plants. Some plants just need to add nutrients such as N and P to supplement the system and make it easier for the bacteria downstream in the biological wastewater treatment plant to achieve degradation of the organics. Work with your local POTW pretreatment coordinator to see how this minor addition of commodity chemicals can significantly help the treatment plant and lower your surcharges. Anytime addition of chemicals or bacteria is added further upstream from the plant, the more efficient the system will be and the more time for degradation. Take advantage of the time the wastewater is in the pipes moving towards the treatment plant. Biological activity can and does occur in the pipes if the conditions are right.


Lowering Surcharges and optimizing pretreatment case history examples

This Bakery had fought grease build up issues from production and lubricating oils for years and had tried many chemical and biological products to treat the blockages in their lift station. There were high weekly surcharges from the local municipality which was experiencing filamentous bulking, foaming and high solids handling costs. A bioaugmentation program with EcoBlocks and the supplemental addition of nutrients was implemented into a lift station. With the 6 hr. retention time prior to discharge to the city, a 40-60% reduction in fees was achieved for BOD and TSS removal. Bioaugmentation products were also used in the drains to easily break down oils and grease, Zooglea and slime. 

This Meat packing plant was causing ongoing Nitrification issues at the local POTW facility due to the loading of high levels of Amines. There were existing API and DAF onsite to try to help eliminate issues and pretreat for the municipality, but nothing seemed to be working. Bioaugmentation EcoBlocks for slow release of supplemental bacteria were added upstream at the packaging plant. Liquids for concentrated applications were fed with a polymer pump on an automated drip feed to help reduce the Amines being sent to the municipality. Surcharges were lowered within a week. 

This chemical plant was functioning with a COD removal rate of 24-39% which was affecting the nearby treatment plant. Pretreatment was needed in order to lower surcharges. Bioaugmentation programs were applied and after only a few months on the program, the plant was achieving between 70-79% COD removal. Additional steps were initiated at the chemical plant in the way of operational changes and also an addition of nutrients upstream with the Bioaugmentation products.

This Beverage facility spent over 3 million dollars per year on surcharges to the city. There were high levels of foaming in the Aeration basin and Zooglea on the belt press. This was a brand new facility, so operator training started immediately on suitable ways to run the plant. Bioaugmentation and nutrients were added quickly throughout the plant and now no surcharges have been presented to the facility in quite some time. 

This small Papermill plant had issues with high BOD, high TSS and stable Algae growth. Sending these issues to the local plant was not an option anymore as the surcharges were outrageous. A dual program using Micronutrients, Macronutrients and Bioaugmentation products since 2006 has helped to maintain excellent results ever since. Keeping all of the Critical 5 parameters in an acceptable range is something that seemed to be overlooked at this Papermill as well. Sometimes supplemental bacteria isn’t the only addition or change needed to help create an admirable environment. 

EPA's Clean Water Act Recognition Awards

 The awards recognize municipalities and industries for demonstrating outstanding technological achievements or an innovative process, method or device in their waste treatment and pollution abatement programs. The objectives of the program are to educate the public about the contributions that POTW facilities make to clean water; to encourage public support for municipal and industrial efforts in effective wastewater management, biosolids management, and wet weather pollution control; and to recognize communities that go much beyond the minimum needed to meet Clean Water Act requirements.


 Each year, the Industrial Waste Program recognizes significant industrial users of the sewer system that have maintained an excellent record of compliance with rules and regulations for the previous calendar year. Awards may be given for voluntarily implementing an innovative pollution prevention strategy, significantly updated their pretreatment equipment or methods, significantly reduced the amount of wastes being discharged to the sewers, or significantly reduced their water use.

To deal with the difficulties faced with dropping temperatures, we offer a solution with a cold weather bacterial formulation in EcoClean® 205. EcoClean® 205 is a high potency, bacteria-laden, powdered formulation specifically designed for cold weather applications for use in degrading many types of waste. EcoClean® 205 contains a specially isolated blend of microorganisms, micro/macronutrients, and surface tension suppressants/penetrants. EcoClean® 205 contains a unique and proprietary blend of psychrophilic microorganisms that are naturally occurring bacteria with the ability to grow at 4°C, and lower. Because of the diversity of the microorganisms and enzyme systems, incorporated into this product, it is excellent for use in cold weather wastewater applications.


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