Eliminating wastewater non-compliance risk with a better wastewater process
Removing and treating wastewater is an essential service for every community, no matter the source (industrial, residential or agricultural). Unfortunately, today, 80% of wastewater is discharged to the environment with minimal to no treatment. Proper treatment ensures that harmful constituents are removed from the water safely without devastating environmental and social impacts.
For industrial companies, some may feel that today's regulations are challenging or cost-prohibitive to achieve, and create unnecessary burdens on the businesses that are discharging wastewater. Here, we are going to look at the risks and costs associated with non-compliance and why building a better wastewater process is worth threefold every dollar invested.
Consequences of Being Non-Compliant
Let's begin with a look at the potential consequences from one specific case. In the spring of 2021, arrest warrants were issued against plant operators of Ohio's Sebring Industrial Plating facility. That facility had primarily been charged for failure to remove hazardous waste, but they also received violations due to a mismanaged wastewater system. EPA officials found cadmium within the facility's non-operating wastewater treatment tank and floor sump, as well as 8,000 gallons of improperly stored waste liquid. In the fall of 2022, those individuals charged were sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to assist the company in paying $1 million in environmental restitution costs to the state and national branches of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is not an isolated case; these can happen almost anywhere.
While this may seem extreme, this recent case study is worth noting as it highlights how the EPA is shifting from not only holding the companies themselves responsible but also the plant operators themselves. Plant operators need to recognize that the risks of non-compliance can extend beyond the company to personal risk.
Other, more traditional risks of a company found of being non-compliant with how they process and discharge their wastewater include:
- Fines and surcharges - Fines are a big deterrent that local, state, and federal agencies will use to enforce compliance. The primary non-compliance fine our team hears about in regard to businesses and onsite wastewater management systems occurs when discharge rates are over the limit.
- Loss of consumer confidence - If you are cited with fines, a local agency launches an investigation, or if for some reason, local media outfits uncover a record of poor wastewater management, there could be community repercussions -- both locally and among your consumer base. Many of today's consumers see themselves as environmentally-conscious and, when faced with choosing between two brands, will choose the one that has shown themselves to be the better environmental steward.
- Damages to company share price and reputation - The extension of lost consumer confidence can impact financial mechanisms, both in terms of activist investors that don’t believe your company is appropriately prioritizing environmental action, and in terms of lower sales translating to lower or missed earnings expectations.
- Employee retention and attracting new employees - The incoming workforce and rising talents within the industry place high value on environmental sustainability. They want to work for mission-aligned companies that share their values. Negative perception and publicity around wastewater compliance will impact recruitment and retention.
- Business continuity - While your company may survive the first non-compliance fine or even the first five, there will come a time when the utility or regulatory bodies can impose consequences that disrupt business continuity. This could be plant closure, whether it is permanent or temporary, or forcing you to find alternative wastewater disposal options. Both of which can be costly and misaligned with the company’s growth plans.
- Potential jail time - As in the example above, those business leaders who knowingly and consistently fail to meet environmental standards in their industry face personal liability. This includes regulations pertaining to emissions - whether water or air.
How to Avoid Being in Non-Compliance through better Wastewater Management
Now that we have taken a look into the serious consequences for a business and its leadership who fail to meet environmental guidelines and wastewater regulations, let's get into how a business can ensure it stays compliant.
Staying abreast of your company's wastewater processes and how it relates to local, state, and federal guidelines is not a one-time activity. This is a task that should be looked at at least once a year, if not every business quarter. That's because while you may be compliant today, tomorrow everything could change. Permit levels and regulations are constantly evolving and changing depending upon factors like water quality and scarcity.
To avoid falling into non-compliance, keep the following steps in mind:
- Know your permit - understand what the permit levels are, as well as if there are any areas of the permit that you struggle to meet. Understand the current situation, tracking discharge levels to see fluctuations in load that could be causing problems downstream.
- Develop a good relationship with regulators and utilities - knowing how you are affecting the receiving water body or downstream utility is important to understanding if there are any potential permit changes coming. Working collaboratively with the public sector is going to help you stay ahead, and identify ways that you could help with the larger water basin challenges.
- Truly understand your wastewater and current management - A complete audit of your wastewater management should be done at least once a year and always after any big product or equipment changes. This will look at the compounds within your wastewater -- both in terms of quantity and components -- as well as the current treatment options. Consider multiple inputs, including energy costs, chemical consumption, operational and maintenance costs and upcoming capital expenses to improve any onsite treatment.
- Look at the process for peaks in the discharge streams - As part of your audit, you should look at wastewater generated from various parts of the process to understand if there are challenging components, where they are coming from, and whether there are improved treatment or disposal options. Production changeovers, bad batches, or other production disruptions will always show up in your wastewater. They need to be a concern to anyone involved in compliance as it can cause serious disruptions to onsite and downstream treatment.
- Ensure every person on the team knows discharge limits - While wastewater may be the domain of a handful of people, companies should not rely on one or two people alone to ensure compliance is being met. We recommend for every facility to have a routine meeting that highlights the facility's discharge limits and increases awareness of production’s role in meeting compliance.
- Identify where you can make improvements - Just about every wastewater treatment system can be improved. Use your audit to determine what aspects of your onsite wastewater management can be updated to reduce costs, increase sustainability, or meet permit requirements. If you don't have an onsite wastewater treatment and are currently trucking part or all of your wastewater for off-site disposal, then now is the time to start building up the correct infrastructure with technology that will reduce the chance of future wastewater non-compliance risks.
- Improve wastewater monitoring - This depends on the frequency and depth of monitoring that is currently being conducted. Depending on what you have installed, you can ensure permit compliance by installing online sensors that collect data on water quality and quantity. Updating from grab sensors will give a better understanding of what’s in the wastewater and what risks you may face.
Contact Our Team Today to Learn More
Sustainable wastewater treatment is the future, and our team at Aquacycl is proud to be changing how businesses process their wastewater. We do this by guaranteeing compliance. We remove the headaches associated with wastewater by providing treatment as a service, allowing you to focus on your core business. Contact our team today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can reduce costs, eliminate risks, and improve environmental performance of wastewater management.