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Industrial Pretreatment Part 1: How Industrial Discharges Can Affect Our Environment and Infrastructure

Posted By Tim Gallagher on June 25, 2024

Recently, I attended my fourth Wastewater Industrial Technical Training Education Conference (WITtec) in Greenwood, Indiana. The conference attendees included wastewater professionals from government entities throughout Indiana, as well as private consultants and vendors who specialize in wastewater treatment processes and equipment. I learned a lot at the conference this year, but the one thing that stood out to me the most was learning about a couple of disasters that are prime examples of the consequences of unregulated industrial discharges to our local infrastructure and ultimately, our local environment.

Pretreatment 1The Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio on June 22, 1969. This event helped spark the environmental protection movement that occurred in the 1970s that resulted in the establishment of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and eventually the creation of the Clean Water Act. The river caught fire due to the presence of an oil slick on top of the water resulting from various manufacturing facilities in Cleveland directly discharging their heavily polluted wastewater into the river. This disaster helped demonstrate the need to regulate industrial activity to protect the water resources in our communities.

Pretreatment 2Another disaster occurred 12 years later in Louisville, Kentucky on February 13, 1981. This event brought the impact of unregulated industrial discharges on public infrastructure and safety into the spotlight. A soybean processing facility had discharged approximately 10,000 liters of liquid hexane into the sanitary sewer system. In the sewers, the hexane vaporized and began to seep out of the manholes along the streets. In its liquid form, hexane is highly flammable, so in its gaseous form, it has the potential to explode if ignited. The hexane gas was ignited by a spark from a passing car, resulting in a chain reaction that destroyed 13 miles of streets. This situation helped demonstrate the need for ensuring that industrial facilities have pretreatment systems, inspections and regulations in order to protect public safety and municipal infrastructure.

Pretreatment 3The next disaster is still fresh in our minds today. On February 3, 2023, a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Several train cars were carrying chemicals that were released into the environment resulting in the pollution of the air and the water resources in the area. The release of liquid chemicals into the surrounding waterways resulted in the death of thousands of fish and other animals in the region. Several thousand people needed to be evacuated from the area and the contaminated wastewater that managed to be kept on site had to be collected and shipped away to be treated elsewhere due to its volatility. Though this incident wasn’t a direct result of unregulated industrial discharges, it shows some of the consequences if a large scale unregulated discharge, or several discharges in the same area were to occur.

This has been part 1 of a two-part series on unregulated industrial discharges and pretreatment. I hope this blog has given you an understanding of how destructive industrial discharges can be to the environment and to public safety.

Part 2 will be released July 9 and will focus on what pretreatment is, why it is important and will give examples of how communities can manage their pretreatment programs.


Tim Gallagher, E.I.


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