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Where Does Wastewater Go After Pickup?

July 22, 2021

Wastewater and Hazardous Waste Management

Somewhere on a backburner in our minds simmers the unsavory fact that the water that goes down our sewers eventually returns to our taps, one way or another. So each of us owns more than a casual interest in what happens to such water between its ingress & egress.

We’re talking “wastewater” here, which can be either hazardous or non-hazardous.

  •  Non Hazardous wastewater typically contains human waste, food scraps, oils, soaps, or chemicals that emanate from sinks, showers, bathtubs, toilets, washing machines, and dishwashers. It does not require hazardous waste disposal.
  • Hazardous wastewater might contain “characteristic” and/or “listed” contaminants and thereby require hazardous waste removal. Recall that per the EPA, something is hazardous if it’s “characteristically” ignitable, corrosive, reactive, toxic; or it’s elsewise “listed” for some other danger to people and/or the local flora & fauna.

There’s also a subcategory of hazardous wastewater called regulated medical waste (RMW). It comes from hospitals, clinics, laboratories, funeral homes, dental practices, etc. RMW must be kept separate from other hazardous wastewater and, of course, nonhazardous wastewater.

So it goes without saying—but we’re going to say it anyway—best practice is to get an onsite analysis of your wastewater to determine if it contains characteristic and/or listed hazardous wastes. This is for two crucial reasons, one seemingly opposite the other:

  • Waste “mischaracterization” can expose you to a host of expensive and time-consuming local, state, and/or EPA sanctions, some of which can bear criminal penalties.
  • But waste “over-characterization” can cause you to buy more hazardous waste treatment than necessary, spuriously inflating your hazardous waste management costs. 

It’s important to get expert advice.

Wastewater removal for business & industry

Wastewater must be removed from your facility by a properly licensed & permitted company. They will use either vacuum- or tanker-trucks to do so.

A vacuum truck—aka “vac-truck”—is one with a pump and a tank. The pump sucks liquid, sludge, or slurry into the tank so that it can be safely hauled away to its ultimate destination. A tanker truck is kind of the same thing, sans the vacuum gear. The best companies maintain separate fleets, one dedicated to hazardous waste, and the other to the non-hazardous kind.  

Bear in mind, you’re accountable for any hazardous waste you generate “from cradle to grave.” That includes its transit; and you’re responsible to ensure that whoever is operating your vac-truck or tanker is properly “permitted” to transport both hazardous and non-hazardous materials.

That includes ensuring that the transporter you select to remove wastewater from your site (to your preferred disposal, storage, or treatment facility) meets a raft of FMCSA requirements.

Again—get expert advice before proceeding.

Also, be sure to vet any hazardous-waste transport company you’re considering for its ongoing employee education & training. Rules change. And if you employ an underqualified or “non-permitted” transporter and something goes wrong, you’re culpable.

Where is wastewater removed to?

  1. A wastewater facility is characterized by a “quiescent  basin,” which is the first stop. Wastewater resides here long enough so that heavy solids can sink while oil, grease, and lighter solids can float. If you’ve ever stored homemade soup in the fridge, you’ve seen this process in action: veggies sink to the bottom while fat floats to the top.  
  2. This step involves introducing beneficial microbes into the wastewater, the kind that enjoy dining on dissolved and suspended biological matter. Not to bring up a repulsive subject, but your intestines are similarly inhabited at this very moment. (Bon appetit, little microbe buddies.)
  3. The wastewater might be disinfected chemically. E.g., if it’s to be used to irrigate—say—a golf course that’s nearby a highly-sensitive or fragile ecosystem (think: pond, lagoon, fishing stream, etc.)

Note: Depending on the type of wastewater and/or the kind of treatment facility (e.g. sewage vs. industrial-wastewater treatment), there might be other steps before, between, and after these three.

The upshot

Efficient wastewater treatment is a significant profitability component of your business.  Not only is there the need to transport wastewater offsite as efficiently & inexpensively as possible, there are sizable EPA, state, and local liabilities to consider.

Remember, per the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), you’re responsible for any hazardous waste you “generate” from “from cradle to grave.” This includes its generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal.

And even if your wastewater isn’t technically hazardous because of “characteristic” or “listed” constituents, remember that the disposal of large quantities of the most benign liquids are often regulated by federal, state, and/or local authorities for their potential effects on the environment.

So it bears repeating: Expert advice is crucial—and the very best kind is available here.

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Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.