From The Editor | August 9, 2016

What To Know About The EPA's New Effluent Guidelines

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Per the Clean Water Act, every two years the U.S. EPA is required to issue its plans for regulating the wastewater that’s discharged into American surface bodies. In June, the agency released its preliminary effluent guidelines program plan for 2016, which is currently open for public comment before a final version is published next year.

While the agency has concluded that no additional industries need to be burdened with new or revised effluent guidelines, based on its “toxicity ranking analysis” of the country’s discharge data, it is studying three industries which may lead to revised regulations and reviewing another seven to determine if there are new pollutants in wastewater that need additional oversight.

Under review for potential changes in how their effluent is regulated are the petroleum refining, centralized waste treatment, and metal finishing industries.

To address petroleum refining, the EPA reviewed public sources, discharge data, and made site visits to refineries. After analyzing the data, the agency has decided that it needs more information to decide if changes to the current effluent guidelines or pretreatment standards are necessary.

“EPA plans to send a targeted information request, including a request for self-sampling data, to nine or fewer companies,” according to the preliminary program plan.

The EPA gathered information about centralized waste treatment facilities across the country to find out which ones currently accept or have accepted oil and gas extraction wastewater, the result of fracking. Based on those results, it is planning a targeted information collection request, indicating concern about how this effluent is currently regulated.

The EPA has found that more advanced technologies being utilized in the metal finishing industry, the business of coating something with a thin surface of metal, has resulted in new sources of wastewater and may require new guidelines. The agency is undergoing a preliminary study.

The EPA also has questions about several pollutants from other industrial categories and has indicated that effluent containing these pollutants may need additional scrutiny.

In the iron and steel manufacturing industry, these pollutants include manganese, copper, lead, and nitrate, with lead being the only one regulated by current effluent guidelines. In the organic chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers space, total residual chlorine and nitrate are currently unregulated. For the pulp, paper, and paperboard industry, lead, mercury, hydrogen sulfide, and manganese have all been marked for further review.

The EPA is also planning additional scrutiny in the battery manufacturing and electronic component industries, to get a better handle on the new technologies being employed there and the exact nature of the wastewater discharges that result.

“Technological advances and changes in industry have created both challenges and opportunities,” said an agency spokesperson. “On one hand, advances in industry process and products, with the use of new materials such as nanoparticles, has created challenges to stay on top of potential new pollutants that may be discharged… On the other hand, improvements in treatment technology have led to new, advanced ways to control pollutants.”

Despite the rapid increase in perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOA/PFOS) contamination across the country, as demonstrated by outbreaks in Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado, the EPA has put off any action to regulate industrial effluent through these guidelines.

“EPA examined industrial wastewater discharges of PFOA/PFOS in 2012 and found that some industries had PFOA and PFOS in their wastewater charges,” the agency spokesperson said. “However, most industries at the time were phasing out the use of PFOA and PFOS … and discharges, as a result, were declining. EPA has decided to reexamine discharges of PFOA/PFOS in 2017 to ascertain if these have been eliminated.”

Like the industries and other pollutants listed in the program plan, PFOA/PFOS will have to wait to be addressed when more information is available down the line.