Guest Column | January 10, 2024

Innovative Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plants: A Sustainable Solution For Manufacturers

By Nick Nicholas


Manufacturing drives the U.S. economy, employing millions. In 2018, these businesses employed 11.9 million workers, according to the 2018 County Business Patterns. On top of that, manufacturers are one of America’s biggest economic engines. The U.S. Department of Defense suggests that manufacturers in the U.S. contribute over $2.35 trillion to the economy and “that every dollar spent in manufacturing results in an additional $2.79 added to the economy, making it the highest multiplier effect of any sector.”

Stricter effluent regulatory standards and a continued focus on sustainability by industrial companies demands innovative treatment solutions. These solutions include innovative modular industrial wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) that assist manufacturers in meeting these treatment standards in the most environmentally friendly way.

The Impact Of Harmful Industrial Wastewater

In 1967, an auto manufacturer discharged tons of toxic sludge onto hundreds of acres of land that the Ramapough Lenape people occupied. The toxins poisoned the groundwater with lead, arsenic, and other dangerous chemicals. Even though this event happened decades ago, the groundwater still contains toxins and threatens a reservoir that millions of New Jersey residents use for drinking water. Still, this mishap is only a piece of a larger puzzle.

Industrial companies of all kinds have released harmful wastewater into the environment — it’s not just manufacturers. For example, harmful mine water in Picher, OK contaminated surface water throughout the community with lead and heavy metals. The pollution was so bad that one of the community’s major water bodies, Tar Creek, became red, flowing with iron, zinc, manganese, cadmium, and arsenic. Mining stopped in Picher, OK in the 1960s, but the polluted mine water still threatens water supplies in this community.

Additionally, North Carolina officials recently learned that harmful toxins had contaminated water near coal-fired power plants. It’s still debatable whether the coal plant is the source of the toxin. However, after alerting residents about the issue, around 1,000 households started using bottled water for brushing their teeth, cooking, and drinking.

All of these examples show that various industrial companies — and not just manufacturers — have contributed to polluting waters in the U.S. However, it’s manufacturing companies that face some of the strictest wastewater regulations.

Effluent Regulations Have Become Stricter

Over the course of the years, states have implemented increasingly strict wastewater standards in an effort to enhance the quality of not only drinking but also process water. Today, industrial wastewater can have many contaminants, including various chemical toxins, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, trace metals, solvents, organic and mineral compounds, phosphorus, and nitrogen.

One of the contaminants that states want manufacturers to be increasingly conscious of removing in wastewater is phosphorus. This compound is being discharged into the environment, causing harmful algae blooms. While present throughout the U.S., phosphorus is most prevalent in the south, where it is warm for most of the year.

An example of the consequences of high levels of phosphorus is evident in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, which has helped sustain animals in the state’s swampy interior for thousands of years. However, today, the lake is infested with toxic algae blooms during the summer, producing waterborne poisons and fumes potent enough to kill pets that enter the water.

Along with removing harmful toxins, officials want manufacturers to consider biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) more seriously. BOD is a calculation that showcases the amount of dissolved oxygen that aerobic organisms use to break down organic material.

One of the most common sources of BOD is wastewater from food-processing plants. However, other industrial plants and urban stormwater runoff are also culprits. With BOD testing, manufacturers can discern water quality more effectively to ensure they are meeting standards.

COD, on the other hand, is a test that determines the amount of oxygen needed to oxidize total organic matter in water. The calculation is increasingly crucial for manufacturers to consider because high levels of organic material in wastewater can be detrimental to the environment where the water is discharged.

Innovative Industrial WWTP Technologies

As state officials require manufacturers to consider stricter standards, it is imperative for companies to comply. Doing so will not only ensure they help protect the environment but also allow them to operate efficiently to maintain their success and contribution to the U.S. However, meeting stricter effluent regulations is not easy. As wastewater standards become stricter, the need for consulting engineering firms to specify modular WWTPs for clients as well manufacturing plant managers and sustainability executives to approve these advanced industrial water treatment systems increases, too.

Sustainable industrial WWTP configurations include several treatment technologies such as:

  • Bio-organic liquid flocculants: With these environmentally friendly solutions, such as Zeoturb, manufacturers can decrease and remove organic and inorganic particles, including algae, dyes, sediment, and silt. This treatment can also decrease and reduce trace heavy metals.
  • Liquid advanced oxidation treatment: Capital cost optimized advanced liquid advanced oxidation processes (AOP) such as Genclean, generate hydroxyl radicals and other reactive oxygen compounds thar are capable of oxidizing pollutants in water and wastewater at the molecular level while also providing a measurable disinfection residual.
  • Specialized electrocoagulation treatment: Electrochemical treatment designed to provide sustainable multi-parameter treatment of industrial water contaminants using a continuous batch treatment process.
  • Biological treatment: Innovative MBBR biological treatment processes and advanced microbiological lagoon treatments like BioSTIK can be an integral part of the industrial water treatment process to reduce COD, BOD, and other particular contaminants.
  • Tertiary wastewater polishing membrane treatment systems: Membrane systems such as nanofiltration or reverse osmosis provide post polishing removal of total dissolved solids and other particular dissolved contaminants ensuring reuse or compliant water discharge.

Another solution approach that plant managers, consulting engineers, and sustainability executives at manufacturing companies can recommend and implement is called “zero liquid discharge.” This method is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the decision not to discharge any wastewater into the environment but to reuse it in the manufacturing processes instead.

Zero liquid discharge is great for manufacturers that are already required to treat and reuse their wastewater. However, increasing water reuse reduces wastewater from being discharged into the environment and gives manufacturers a consistent water source. These initiatives and approaches are becoming increasingly important as climate change has affected water availability with water shortages globally and here in the Southwest region of the U.S.

Start Relying On Water Treatment Solutions

As sustainability executives and plant managers at industrial manufacturing companies, you are under growing pressure to meet stricter water quality standards. This pressure can feel heavy and challenging. However, water and wastewater experts are available to help you design, specify, and implement innovative industrial WWTPs that ensure you comply with your regulatory standards. Embrace these advanced treatment solutions to safeguard our environment and secure a prosperous, eco-conscious future for your manufacturing endeavors.

Nick Nicholas is the Technical Director for Genesis Water Technologies, Inc, a global leader in integrated solutions for drinking water and wastewater treatment. In this role and previous roles with GWT, he has coordinated and led a global team of technical professionals in designing, engineering, and building treatment system solutions for industrial, commercial, and water utility clients worldwide. Mr. Nicholas holds the distinction of being named one of the top 10 water professionals under 40 by Water & Wastes Digest magazine in 2019.