Whales and wastewater

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week (http://www.smh.com.au/environment/whale-watch/heavy-metals-from-pollution-threaten-sperm-whales-with-extinction-20100625-z9m8.html) detailed one of the effects that decades of poor waste disposal practice has had on nature. For years on years in Australia and elsewhere overseas, wastewater containing heavy metals has been collected at its source and carted away for ‘off-site treatment’. Often it’s just been dumped directly into waterways and because no-one saw a problem, there was no problem. But all that’s changed now, right? Maybe not… in reality, the only way to protect our environment is for wastewater to be treated at its source.

A sperm whale tail

The article states that finding high levels of chromium in tissue samples taken from nearly 1,000 sperm whales over five years was a major surprise. How much of that chromate was generated by corrosion control practices in aircraft MRO workshops? While waste generators claim (perhaps even believe) that they don’t dump their wastewater, having it collected and getting an EPA slip to say that it’s being treated properly, that’s simply not always the case.

It comes down to how the wastewater is being treated in these big central processing facilities… usually a ‘mix and match’ system is in operation, along with some basic treatments that lower the levels of particular contaminants, but not all… and then the ‘treated water’ is sent to sewer and eventually ocean outfall.

Contaminants such as chromium and other heavy metals must be removed during the treatment process if we are to ensure that the discharged wastewater can’t have a detrimental effect on the environment. Waste generators should do all they can themselves to remove these contaminants before the wastewater leaves their business premises. They can even save money doing it this way, saving on ‘pump and dump’ fees and rates for discharge to sewer.

On-site treatment is the only way to be absolutely sure a company’s waste is not entering the environment, even in a diluted form. Treating waste on site gives the waste generator ultimate control over environmental protection (and protection of company reputation!).  Waste generators should demand ultimate control as they already have ultimate responsibility. The company E H & S Officer can monitor all treatments and keep records of all wastes generated and treated to ensure that the waste is properly disposed of.

Paying to have waste leave a company’s site in a tanker is not only expensive, it could potentially damage the environment for future generations. Let’s hope the practice is short-lived.