Wastewater treatment is a vital process for many different industries. Companies must carry it out responsibly to help keep the planet healthy and human populations safe. Total water use in the United States is estimated to be about 322 billion gallons a day, with industrial use accounting for almost half that amount. In 2017, U.S. industries spent $10.2 billion on water management, including getting the water, reusing it, treating it and discharging it.
In many cases, individual companies should not treat their own wastewater. They may not have the required permits, and the process may prove too complex to undertake without significant resources. A professional wastewater treatment facility has the necessary permits, experience and technical knowledge to treat and dispose of industrial wastewater affordably, efficiently — and above all — safely.
Why must industrial wastewater be treated, and what industries generally require wastewater treatment? We’ll answer these questions below.
Why Is It Important to Treat Industrial Wastewater?
It’s essential to treat industrial wastewater because much of it ends up back in the environment. This happens happen after the wastewater’s contaminant concentrations have been reduced to safe volumes for discharge. High pollution levels in wastewater could do serious damage to local ecosystems and pose health risks to nearby residents. Effective, ethical wastewater treatment helps minimize those potential harms.
What Does Industrial Wastewater Contain?
Depending on the industry, industrial wastewater may contain any number of contaminants, including the following:
- Additives, like calcium phosphate or sodium phosphate
- Automotive fluids
- Calcium and magnesium ions
- Food waste
- Heavy metals, like arsenic, iron, lead and zinc
- Hormones and antibiotics
- Motor oil
- Nutrients, like nitrates and phosphates
- Organic matter
- Petroleum byproducts
- Prescription and over-the-counter drug residues
- Sugars and fats
Industries That Require Wastewater Treatment
Some of the industries that require wastewater treatment include:
The agricultural industry uses water for activities like irrigation, livestock watering and machinery washing. Because agricultural operations use fertilizers, their wastewater often contains high levels of phosphate and nitrate contaminants, as well as chemical compounds from herbicides and pesticides. Specialized agricultural facilities may generate wastewater with different characteristics — for instance, the waste from dairy operations often contains dissolved sugars, fats and additives.
Automotive services such as repair and maintenance shops generate large volumes of liquid waste, including:
- Used oil
- Transmission and wiper fluid
- Water used for washing vehicle parts or flushing lines
Auto shops cannot dump this wastewater down the nearest drain — they must dispose of it properly to avoid polluting local ecosystems.
The construction industry tends to create large volumes of debris waste, but it also generates wastewater in a few ways. Washing heavy construction equipment can generate wastewater that construction companies must handle responsibly. The use of chemicals like paints, solvents and adhesives also creates wastewater that companies must dispose of safely.
In food processing, water is used to wash fruits and vegetables and wash away blood and organic waste after slaughtering meat animals. The wastewater from fruits and vegetables is generally nontoxic, but it contains high concentrations of organic particulate matter. The wastewater from animal slaughter contains organic waste like blood, skin and fecal matter, as well as high levels of synthetic compounds like antibiotics and growth hormones.
Industrial manufacturing facilities like iron and steel plants generate wastewater through various processes. Producing iron from ores in blast furnaces requires large amounts of cooling water, which can become contaminated with waste products like ammonia and cyanide. Steel production processes also require water as a coolant and lubricant. Manufacturing facilities may generate substantial amounts of oil waste in their wastewater as well.
Marine industries generate wastewater in a few different ways. Ballast water is the water vessels take in to balance their weight, often after unloading cargo or discharging other wastewater. The ballast waste usually contains high concentrations of organic matter and ultimately becomes wastewater itself. There is also bilge wastewater, which is a mixture of all the wastes that collect at the lowest points of the vessel — including oil, chemicals, sludge, freshwater and seawater. This waste cannot be deposited into the ocean or any inland waterways.
Mining and Quarrying
Mining and quarrying generate large volumes of wastewater as some specialized processes use water to separate materials like coal from the surrounding rock, sand, dirt and gravel. Separating precious metals from unwanted metals like zinc and arsenic can also leave these metals in the wastewater stream.
Oil and Gas
The oil and gas industry, particularly oil and gas extraction, generates wastewater in the form of cleaning water and oil waste. The residues left in tanks must be disposed of properly, as well as any water used to clean those tanks. The water used to wash heavy equipment also becomes wastewater that must be properly disposed in compliance with local and federal regulations.
The pharmaceutical industry generates wastewater throughout its manufacturing processes. Pharmaceutical manufacturing waste products include both controlled and residual drug waste and noncontrolled and nonresidual drug waste. The water used to manufacture the drugs also becomes waste.
Pulp and Paper
The pulp and paper industry uses enormous volumes of water in its production processes — about 17,000 gallons per ton of paper. Water is especially necessary during the bleaching process, but so are other chemicals, like acids and chlorine. Pulp and paper wastewater has contaminants like acids, chlorine, chloroform, dioxins, hydrocarbons and phenols.
Textile manufacturing requires tremendous volumes of water for its processes. It also uses large amounts of chemical products like bleach and dyes. All the chemicals that are used to make textiles end up in the resulting wastewater. Textile manufacturers must dispose of this waste properly to avoid polluting the environment with chemical contaminants.
Water treatment processes produce wastewater that must undergo treatment itself. As water treatment facilities remove impurities and make water safe for human ingestion, they generate wastewater that often includes contaminants like organic matter, calcium, magnesium, iron and carbonate. This wastewater should not go back into the environment without further treatment.
Treatment of Industrial Wastewater
Treating industrial wastewater involves several different steps, including:
- Removing solids via sludge, aeration or anaerobic processes
- Removing oil and grease with separators
- Removing organic matter using activated sludge
- Neutralizing acids and alkalis
- Precipitating out heavy metals via chemicals or pH adjustments
- Deionization to remove unwanted ions
- Membrane filtration to remove chlorine and other contaminants
Contact ERC for All Your Industrial Wastewater Treatment Needs
To experience the benefits of working with a professional industrial wastewater treatment company, partner with ERC. We are a full-service environmental company and handle all types of waste streams. Our bulk wastewater treatment facility uses effective, safe and environmentally responsible methods of industrial wastewater treatment.
Contact us today to learn more about our compliant and innovative solutions.