A Case for Transparency

The latest monitoring technology helps the Hampton Roads Sanitation District take subjectivity out of the equation when assessing odor issues
A Case for Transparency
The OdoWatch system uses electronic sensors, programmed to recognize specific odors, at strategic points in the treatment processes. Information from these sensors (eNoses) is then coupled with on-site meteorological data.

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The concept of transparency today reminds us that government is always accountable to the people. A brief Internet search reveals a rapid trend toward making government data available and user-friendly for private citizens.

Transparency is often associated with financial accountability (think Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). Moving forward, though, transparency has become much broader. In the case of publicly owned wastewater treatment plants, transparency extends to all of our operations.

How does that relate to odor management? In many metropolitan areas, neighborhoods are being built closer and closer to treatment plants. Over the last 20 years, this is especially true for plants built near coastal waters and rivers to minimize the distance for discharge. These plants now sit on prime real estate.

With treatment plants and residential neighborhoods close together, odor management becomes very important. The perception of odor can vary greatly from one person to another — what one person considers unpleasant or a nuisance might not bother or even be detected by someone else. This can lead to disagreements and undermine trust.

Providing transparency in odor management means having the tools for the job and being able to take subjectivity out of the equation as much as possible. The Hampton Roads (Va.) Sanitation District is doing that by installing the OdoWatch odor monitoring system, supplied by Kruger Inc., a Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies company.

 

Making it measurable

A key to monitoring and managing odors is to use standardized units of measure so that odors can be viewed objectively. This means developing “odor units” or “dilutions-to-threshold” for the known sources of odor at a wastewater treatment plant.

That in turn requires robust sampling of odor sources. The samples then must be subjected to the industry-proven standard of olfactometry (ASTM E679). Several professional labs in the United States perform odor panel analysis to provide the data needed for odor-control studies and, ultimately, odor management.

However, to take that information to the next level and operate transparently, especially with respect to off-site impacts, it is necessary to measure and monitor odors continuously. This relatively new concept is gradually being adopted by treatment plants in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. The OdoWatch system represents the latest technology, providing continuous odor monitoring in real time.

The system was developed by odor science specialists at Odotech in Montreal. The technology begins with the sampling and olfactometric analysis of source odors. Then, the monitoring system works by transmitting data on real-time odor fluctuations from each source by way of electronic sensors (eNoses) specially programmed to recognize the odors, coupled with on-site meteorological data.

By reviewing the outputs, plant operators can observe the projected on-site and off-site odor plumes coming from individual process units and the plant as a whole. Dozens of specific locations can be flagged to alert staff when odors begin to cross a preset threshold. These alerts give staff the best chance to control the odors before they become a problem.

 

Are there risks?

Some may perceive downsides to tracking odors so closely. For example, could documenting odors in this way give regulatory authorities and local residents credible evidence against a treatment plant in an odor dispute? Potentially, yes.

On the other hand, it could be argued that if a treatment plant cannot clearly demonstrate what is going on with an odor, then all the staff can do is claim some degree of ignorance that will only postpone the inevitable.

What is the cost of not knowing? We may be contributing to odors that we have the existing capability to control. And if we don’t measure and ultimately control odors, we are not properly serving our communities and ratepayers.

If we are uninformed, we might not be operating the plant as effectively and efficiently as we could, and we might be missing opportunities to save the public money. Finally, if we don’t measure odors with the best available technology, we leave that up to others, who will likely use cruder technologies or more subjective methods to rate plant odor performance.

At the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, we take our responsibility to the public seriously. We have well-trained plant operators and technical staff who seek the best methods to maintain optimal air and water quality for the environment, our neighbors, and all the people we serve in Southeastern Virginia.

 

Being accountable

For that reason, and because nuisance odors can be a personal and emotionally charged issue, we have begun managing odors at our treatment plants with the OdoWatch technology, exclusively provided in the United States by Kruger Inc. In the process of operating the system at HRSD’s Chesapeake-Elizabeth plant for the last 18 months, we have shown that we can effectively monitor and reduce odors while saving money. The technology enables us to know more about our operations and helps us mitigate potential off-site odors.

As communities and our neighbors demand to know and expect more from their public employees and governments, we as treatment plant operators can provide transparency that gives a full account of our performance. When we operate to those standards, the people know we are doing our best to be good neighbors.

 

About the author

Mark Feltner is an environmental scientist with Hampton Roads Sanitation District, Virginia Beach, Va.



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