Pretreatment team members at a North Carolina treatment plant work as partners with businesses to protect the environment and support economic growth
Consistent attention to detail is one reason Freddie Martin’s name is on the North Carolina Division of Water Quality’s Pretreatment Professionals Honor Roll. He earned the distinction as industrial services coordinator for Greenville Utilities Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2006 for leadership of the organization’s pretreatment program.
Martin says the award was based on Greenville’s history of compliance, inspection results, and the involvement of the utility with the North Carolina Pretreatment Consortium, a group formed about 15 years ago. “They were generally impressed with our program,” says Martin. “Our compliance inspections were always favorable, and they felt we were doing things the way they wanted, which made the inspections much easier.”
A policy of treating industries as customers continues to define the pretreatment program, which Martin led from 1990 (about two years after it began) until 2007. He then became the natural gas supply officer for the community-owned Greenville Utilities, which provides electric, water, sewer and natural gas service to Greenville and most of Pitt County. The utility has 135,800 customer connections, including more than 28,000 sewer connections.
“We’re here because the state requires us to be here,” says Martin. “The industries are our customers and are the reason we exist as a utility. So we try to maintain a real positive working relationship with them as well as with the regulators.”
When Martin left, the pretreatment duties fell to Jeff Camp, industrial pretreatment specialist, and Jason Manning, environmental compliance coordinator. Camp handles the day-to-day operations while Manning handles administrative duties.
The 17.5 mgd (design) biological nutrient removal wastewater treatment plant has six major Significant Industrial Users, accounting for about 10 percent of the 10 mgd average daily flow. At one time, a single pharmaceutical plant contributed that much flow. While smaller now, that company is still an important focus of the pretreatment program because of its potential impact on the treatment process.
The knowledge gained from dealing with that plant’s organic chemical loading had a lasting impact. “We did a lot of organic analysis and traced some chemicals that were causing treatment problems back to them,” Martin says. Much of that data was later used by the U.S. EPA in the development of pharmaceutical regulations.
One of the most damaging chemicals was dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). “It caused a drop in our dissolved oxygen and an awful smell,” says Martin. “It inhibited our process in more than one way, and it came in often enough so that operators knew when they detected even a hint of the odor, we could expect treatability problems.”
Manning says operators would immediately contact his lab so that samples could be drawn. They would take steps to increase oxygen, ramp up the blowers, and ensure that there was enough biomass to provide a buffer.
The manufacturer had a pretreatment facility and was not having the same problems as the treatment plant, so it took some convincing to make them believe they were the source. That included immediate testing whenever operators detected the odor.
“We have automated samplers at major lift stations in the system, and we used portable samplers at individual manholes identified in our monitoring plan,” says Martin. “We would contact the customer to sample their effluent.”
Once convinced, the company was able to make changes to its processes that ended the problem. It was a good outcome for Martin – protecting the environment and the treatment plant while helping a local company.
An economic tool
He feels helping business is an important role for pretreatment programs. “We work with our Economic Development Commission when an industry is interested in coming to town,” says Martin. “It’s helpful when water, wastewater, and pretreatment people are involved early on.”
One such case was a manufacturer of silica gel, the material in desiccant packets found in product packaging. “They produce a lot of saltwater (high in TDS) in the form of sodium sulfate, and we discharge into freshwater,” says Martin. A pretreatment study found the treatment plant could process the company’s effluent without added expense.
“If there is an issue with regulations, we’ll try to work with companies instead of against them,” Martin stresses. “We’re not looking to carry a big hammer and bang them over the head. We want to find a solution that works for them and works for us.”
In one recent case, a company accidentally discharged caustics in violation of its permit and didn’t notify the treatment plant right away. Operators detected the problem on the SCADA system when a pumping station sensor showed high pH.
“We tried to handle it with grace and good customer service,” says Manning. “We’re working with them on implementing corrective actions and improving their processes, especially around communications. What I’m trying to get them to understand is that we’re here for permits and enforcement, but we’re also here to help the industry work, live, and do everything they need to do to provide jobs, protect the environment and promote our economy.”
Camp says the balance between regulations and customer service became more difficult when the recession hit. “Several businesses left, and a lot of them had to downsize,” he says. “That makes the pretreatment job challenging, because you have to protect your plant and your receiving waters and follow state and federal regulations, while also trying to be as customer-friendly as you can.”
One thing Camp has done is to try to help out with sampling. “I’ve gone out to do the sampling, and we run the analyses for companies,” he says. “We’re just trying to help with the cost as a customer service.”
He has also seen a change in the regulatory environment. The state pretreatment program just lost a full-time position, and the same has happened at the federal level, so the staffs are overworked and trying to be more efficient.
Municipalities have the same challenges. That is one reason Martin’s duties were split between two existing positions when he left the pretreatment program. Greenville’s wastewater department cares for 479 miles of pipe, 38 pump stations and 28,000 connections. “Pretreatment seems to be a catchall, and we wind up being involved in a lot of different things,” says Martin.
One such project is for the drinking water treatment plant. The Tar River runs through Greenville and empties into the Pamlico River and Pamlico Sound, a saltwater estuary. “At times, especially during drought conditions, the saltwater can come back up the river,” says Martin. “We help identify how far the salt comes upstream.” It hasn’t been a problem, but monitoring continues as far as 10 miles downstream.
The pretreatment staff also assisted in lead sampling for the water utility. Samples were taken across the community to help identify homes that still have lead solder in their plumbing connections.
Martin was also involved in several groundwater remediation projects. One is remediating the spill of about 10,000 gallons of gasoline from an underground line at a gas station that was cut during installation of an underground utility line. Martin was the project manager for that work, which pumped the remediated groundwater into the wastewater system. Monitoring and reporting continues to this day.
Camp is also involved in the wastewater utility’s FOG program. “I used to go out and sample food service establishments,” he says. “That has been turned over to the Engineering Department, but pretreatment staff still gets involved if we have a problem in the collection system and enforcement is needed.”
Manning also heads up the wastewater department’s environmental laboratory, which does some reporting, monitoring, and analysis for the drinking water plant. “They bring in dozens if not hundreds of samples every month,” says Manning. “It works well because it gives them verifiable data with a quick turnaround.”
The key for the current success of the pretreatment program, adds Manning, was that Martin laid a solid foundation. “In this economy, we are always looking to find cost savings,” he says. “Because the program was running so smoothly, we were able to keep things operating at a very high level with current staffing.”