Characterizing Wastewater

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Figure 7.5.1 is a guide to the decisions involved in developing an appropriate waste management strategy.

The most important step in developing a wastewater management strategy is to completely characterize the wastewater. Although compliance monitoring indicates current compliance status, it is not an adequate starting point for the cost-effective design of a wastewater treatment system. Environmental engineers must characterize both the source to and effluent from current wastewater treatment operations. Understanding how the wastewater is produced is as important as knowing what contaminants are present (McLaughlin, McLaughlin, and Groff 1992). A review of manufacturing processes provides the knowledge base needed to evaluate the best place to reduce, recover, or treat individual waste streams.

The data should include the following information:

• All production activities within the facility, i.e., raw materials used and production records

• Detailed drawings of the plant showing the locations of processing units, their water distribution, and wastewater production and collection systems

• The quantity, analysis, frequency, and flow rate of the waste stream discharge from each unit process

• The frequency, extent, and type of monitoring and sampling used in accordance with the nature and variability of each waste stream

• The flow measurement and location of sample collection points within the facility indicating the type of monitoring stations (permanent or temporary) used

The constituents to be assayed and quantified in the influent and effluent depend on manufacturing process characteristics and should be determined on a case-by-case basis (McLaughlin, McLaughlin, and Groff 1992). In general, environmental engineers should analyze the constituents to assess compliance with current and future regulatory requirements and consider:

• Options for treating individual wastewater resources

• Potentials for modifying the manufacturing process to reduce, eliminate, or modify contaminants.

Table 7.5.1 lists the constituents and parameters that should be analyzed.

To assess whether current treatment systems require modification or replacement, environmental engineers must be aware of the target compounds for treatment and the additional constraints of individual treatment processes. For example, surfactants in metal waste streams must be analyzed because these compounds can chelate with metals and deteriorate conventional metal-removal technologies. Another example is evaluating the presence of salts when recycling is considered since equipment restrictions (such as preventing scaling) can limit the level of salt during recycling. Thus, environmental engineers should develop the list of constituents to analyze with both current and potential treatment technologies in mind.

Environmental engineers should also characterize wastewater in terms of flow rate. A comprehensive understanding of flow rates and patterns of flow to waste-water treatment operations is critical in the design of either a new system or system modifications. A good waste characterization accounts for all components of the final discharge including all resources and losses of water and the constituents present.

The best way to completely characterize wastewater is to develop a mass balance augmented by an understanding of the manufacturing process that generates the waste-water streams.

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