Which Industries Produce the Most Wastewater?

Wastewater is generated by dozens of different industries on a daily basis. It can occur accidentally, from controlled manufacturing and production processes or due to storm water running over a natural surface. No matter the source or amount of wastewater, there are plenty of options for containing and controlling it. These industries all produce enough wastewater to need dedicated primary and secondary containment systems. If you’re operating a business in one of these industries, don’t underestimate your need for wastewater management solutions.

Manufacturing and Industrial Companies

The majority of the most hazardous wastewater comes from the manufacturing and mining industries. Industrial wastewater often contains a mix of:

  • Heavy metals
  • Harsh chemicals like acids, soaps, and solvents
  • Bacteria from a wide range of sources
  • Hydrocarbons in various forms
  • Dissolved minerals
  • Micronutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous that can set off algae blooms
  • Small particles of polymers, resins, and other materials with long periods of biodegradability.

With enough chemical or heavy metal content, the wastewater may be valuable enough to reclaim and reuse at least once before further processing. Wastewater containment methods are still required where it’s being reused or processed since it takes multiple levels of filtration to reduce the risks of this kind of runoff.

Car Washing and Deicing Equipment

Car washes and the extensive deicing equipment required for keeping airports running in the winter produce a prodigious amount of wastewater between the two industries. Both forms of wastewater only feature one or two main contaminants in the form of soaps and salts, but high concentrations of either one results in a liquid in need of reliable containment. Leaks or spills of these concentrated wastes can result in complete die-off of natural life in a waterway or long-term soil damage due to salt and phosphorous burns.

Food Processing

Canning, steaming, sterilizing, and processing services in the food industry create wastewater that still needs special handling. While some steaming and sterilizing runoff liquids are basically distilled water with no minerals or contaminants, other waste products include high acidity or salinity that makes it inappropriate for direct reuse. On-site processing allows for reuse as irrigation water or at least acceptable discharge. Water used to clean pesticide treated produce may have unacceptable levels of these chemicals mixed in, so make sure to test for a wide range of water quality parameters before assuming a certain supply is safe to reuse.

Power Production

Power plants are often the largest, single industry responsible for wastewater production; especially in countries like the U.S. and Russia. This comes from the massive amounts of cooling water required to keep coal and nuclear power systems running smoothly. Coal powered plants, in particular, need a steady supply of water that is quickly turned to waste in the process of removing accumulated ash. Washing down equipment and cleaning fired equipment also results in runoff full of highly alkaline ash and a wide variety of heavy metals. This wastewater needs secure containment since even small releases can have a long-term effect on the surrounding water and soil.

Waste Treatment

Sewage treatment plants and other facilities, built for handling waste products naturally, generate a lot of wastewater. In most treatment plants, the wastewater is only held for a certain period of time for processing to occur. Keeping these processing ponds and tanks as watertight and leak-free as possible ensures that only relatively clean water is discharged at the end. If water is lost from excessive evaporation or seepage, the treatment process won’t follow the desired progress. Sewage can become too concentrated to break down properly when water is lost, so containment must be designed to keep as much wastewater in the intended ponds as possible.

Desalination

Desalination plants may provide essential drinking and irrigation water for millions of people around the world, but they also generate extremely concentrated brine wastewater at the end of the process. The small amount of water that can’t be extracted in the process is left with a high concentration of salt. Evaporation in a shallow lined pond further reduces the moisture and allows for the reuse of the salt or other minerals mixed into the brine wastewater. However, containment is necessary for these evaporation ponds since the salt can permanently settle in the surrounding soil.

Agriculture and Livestock Production

Agricultural and livestock farms both generate potentially hazardous wastewater through normal operation. The runoff from crop fields is often full of unsafe levels of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, while livestock feeding operations generate nitrogen and ammonia rich runoff. Since this wastewater originates on the surface when there’s heavy rainfall, it’s easy to design containment systems designed around buried geomembranes to trap and funnel this runoff where it’s acceptable to discharge. Accumulated irrigation or manure runoff can often make a valuable liquid fertilizer, so it’s worth collecting in addition to achieving environmental protection goals.

Healthcare Facilities

Hospitals, clinics, and even pharmaceutical production facilities all create plenty of sensitive wastewater that requires careful handling and containment. With the risk of medical waste and pharmaceutical chemicals being high in this kind of wastewater, it’s best to keep it completely separated from the healthcare facility. The waste may be too concentrated to handle in a traditional processing plant, leading to the need for separate holding and treatment ponds.

Landfills

With modern landfills stretching over dozens to hundreds of acres of ground, it’s no wonder each waste plant can produce millions of gallons of wastewater per year. Every drop of water that falls onto the open landfill must go somewhere. After that water trickles through dozens of feet of various types of trash in different stages of decomposition, many different contaminants are found in the mixed wastewater. Proper lining, with a geomembrane during the initial construction of the landfill, paired with an impermeable cap when it’s closed, is the best primary containment method for this kind of runoff.

Transportation Infrastructure

Storm water is a major category of wastewater that is often mixed with solid trash along with chemical runoff from the surfaces of streets and parking lots. Any private or public paved surface contributes to the total amount of storm water in a particular area. Careful drain placement is the first step in gathering this runoff, but these drains must connect to a larger containment system to handle flooding events without damaging nearby properties and roadways.

Even if your industry wasn’t listed here, you may still need wastewater containment to comply with local, state, and federal regulations. Any activity that generates more than a few gallons of wastewater, or even a small amount of hazardous waste, will need some kind of backup containment measures. Using an impermeable geomembrane barrier like the products available here at BTL Liners prevents both seepage and leaks from becoming a problem.


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