Faced with Strong Industry Challenge, EPA Issues Mild Effluent Treatment Rules

Oct. 1, 2000
CARGO TANK wash racks and the customers they serve scored a big win with the new Transportation Equipment Cleaning-Effluent Limitations Guidelines (TEC-ELG)

CARGO TANK wash racks and the customers they serve scored a big win with the new Transportation Equipment Cleaning-Effluent Limitations Guidelines (TEC-ELG) just issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rule took effect September 15, 2000, and wash racks have up to three years to come into full compliance.

Victory had a price, but many in the industry are saying it was a bargain. National Tank Truck Carriers Inc (NTTC) spent approximately $650,000 on legal action over the past two years. Jack Waggener, an environmental regulation specialist with URS/Dames & Moore, was brought in to coordinate the effort.

In the face of strong assault on its research methodology, the EPA made significant compromises and adopted a final rule that generally mirrors the viewpoints expressed by NTTC. Pressure for a less stringent rule also came from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Office of Management and Budget.

"We got about 90% of what we requested, and that's more than enough to call it a victory," Waggener says. "It was the toughest battle I've ever fought. EPA did everything they could to step on this industry and ram through a tough, unfair, unnecessary rule. We got outstanding support from SBA. We couldn't have made our case without them."

Essentially, EPA never made a compelling argument for a stricter rule. The agency was unable to provide reliable evidence that wastewater streams from most tank wash racks pose an unusual risk to environmental safety. In fact, EPA test data alleging the presence of certain highly toxic pesticides was thoroughly discredited.

As a result, compliance will cost the tank cleaning industry just a fraction of initial estimates. A more draconian rule proposed earlier could have cost the tank cleaning industry as a whole at least $75 million in new capital investment and more than $22 million a year. It could have crippled the tank cleaning industry and forced many smaller operators out of the business.

Limited Focus The final rule focuses primarily on treatment of wash rack waste streams containing chemicals and petroleum. It includes a much shorter list of parameters with limits, more achievable limits, equal treatment for railroads, and a maximum of three years to obtain compliance for indirect dischargers.

As NTTC requested, the rule does not place direct or indirect discharge requirements on cleaning of hopper trailers, such as those used for plastics or fertilizer. Only direct discharge limits were established for the cleaning of edibles tanks.

On the negative side, NTTC was unsuccessful in its request for inclusion in the rule of facilities that clean intermediate bulk containers (IBCs). EPA ignored NTTC comments and used outdated data to justify its decision to exclude IBCs at this time. NTTC contends that IBCs generate heels that are much greater in total volume than tank trailers. IBCs now account for several million shipments a year, and the total is growing.

Members of the tank cleaning industry that handle both tank trailers and IBCs contend that the exclusion could put them at a competitive disadvantage. Some wash rack operators have suggested that they may be forced to set up separate cleaning facilities just for IBCs to sidestep the rule.

"The exemption of IBCs will create unfair competition," says Charlie Verna with Brite-Sol. "We're already seeing some efforts to substitute IBCs for tank trailers. The IBC population is growing, and they generate significant amounts of wastewater."

Despite a few flaws, such as the IBC exclusion, the rule has plenty of favorable aspects. It is the first Effluent Limitations Guideline that truly allows a facility the option to develop and operate under a Pollution Management Plan (PMP) or comply with Pretreatment Standards for Existing Sources (PSES) limits. Waggener suggests that a PMP will be the best route for most tank wash racks that are indirect dischargers. Direct dischargers must use the PSES program.

"My guess is that close to 50% of the wash racks in the industry already have a fairly substantial plan in place," Waggener says. "They will need to make slight to moderate changes to meet the requirements of the rule, particularly in the area of heel management. Not a lot of additional equipment will be needed."

A typical plan will contain six sections: introduction and certification; facility description; tank cleaning operation; waste management; chemical management; and plan administration, training, and records. Waggener recommends inclusion of an optional section on emergency procedures that addresses leak and spill prevention and countermeasures.

Pollutant Management The PMP has no actual limits for pollutants and does not require the use of specific treatment technology. Facilities choosing the PMP would have to continue to comply with the local city or publicly owned treatment works (POTW) ordinance limits. Each wash rack will have to develop a site-specific PMP, and it must be approved by the POTW.

Some wash racks report that POTWs were beginning to request PMPs even before the new Effluent Limitations Guidelines took effect. Apparently, POTWs also are requiring the sort of baseline reports that apply to the PSES approach.

The PMP requirements primarily focus on the "appropriate" handling of heels, prerinses, cleaning solutions, and acid brightener washes that are "incompatible" with the POTW. Depending on the facility and material, "appropriate" handling could be off-site treatment or disposal, effective pretreatment at the wash rack, and/or recycling.

For example, cargoes that would likely be "incompatible" with the POTW are certain pesticides. The pesticide heel and prerinse may need to be segregated from the other facility wastewaters for disposal offsite or recycling at a pesticide manufacturing or formulating facility.

Alternative Process Limits and treatment systems are the focus in the PSES approach. A baseline report on existing pollutant levels must be completed within 180 days of the effective date of the new Effluent Limitations Guidelines.

The EPA requires the following treatment systems for compliance with the PSES approach: Equalization, oil/water separation, chemical oxidation, neutralization, coagulation, clarification, and sludge dewatering. Activated carbon treatment was dropped from the final rule.

The EPA also eliminated most of the originally proposed parameters and limits. These were very low concentrations that could not have been consistently achieved and would have resulted in significantly higher monitoring and treatment costs.

Based on comments submitted by NTTC, the limit for copper was significantly increased to a concentration that should be achievable by most well-designed wash rack treatment facilities. Mercury is rarely found in products transported in tank trailers and was not originally on the EPA list. However, it was included in the final rule. Concentration levels are set high enough that they should be achievable, according to Waggener.

Of the three regulated parameters in the PSES alternative, the maximum daily limit of 26 mg/l for nonpolar material (SGT-HEM) or TPH will be more difficult to consistently achieve, even with the best-designed treatment facilities. Waggener and NTTC suggest that the limits are too low and may need to be challenged.

Any challenges calling for judicial review must be filed by December 26.

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