Minimizing Industrial Pollution from Runoff
Most of us are familiar with the municipal type of stormwater that flows as runoff from strip malls, big-box stores, public parking lots, and roadways. The rainwater collects in storm drains and flows through culverts or open ditches to a nearby river or sewage treatment plant. Along the way, it picks up pollutants such as motor oil that drips from vehicles, and it may pollute our waterways or overload wastewater treatment plants in a rainstorm.
But there’s another side to the stormwater equation: industry. Here, it becomes more of a point source, what Calvin Noling, owner and principal engineer at StormwateRx, describes as “incidental contact of manufacturing materials with precipitation or rainfall that falls on the site.” Heavy manufacturing facilities lie primarily in urban areas with large impervious surfaces, and they operate big pieces of mobile equipment, creating a similar scenario to the municipal type of stormwater runoff. “But it’s usually more concentrated, and they are different types of pollutants than you’d see off a roof or street.”
To deal with this, Noling founded StormwateRx (pronounced Stormwater Rx) in Portland, Oregon, which manufactures stormwater treatment and filtration systems and provides engineering services for industrial facilities throughout North America. “I’m an environmental engineer, and almost all of my career I have dedicated to industrial facilities,” he reveals. “I have just been fascinated with industry. I think it’s a very important part of out economy.”
Armed with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Humboldt State University and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Loyola Marymount, Noling first worked for engineering firms Metcalf & Eddy and CH2M Hill, handling municipal, industrial, and environmental remediation projects focusing on water, wastewater, and stormwater. Then he went to work for Stormwater Management, a Portland startup manufacturer of structural stormwater management systems, as director of industrial business.
Stormwater Management mainly focused on municipal stormwater systems. “My job there was to repurpose the municipal products for the industrial market,” Noling recalls. In 2005, a multinational pipe company purchased them. Noling decided it wasn’t a good long-term fit, “so I decided to start the company with the specialty explicitly in industrial stormwater.”
Business is driven largely by the Clean Water Act, which requires entities to have permits for stormwater discharge from their jurisdiction. For many industries such as scrap yards, galvanizers, metal fabricators, and boatyards, source control practices to prevent pollutants from entering stormwater runoff just aren't enough, and treatment becomes necessary. StormwateRx develops systems to mitigate stormwater pollution due to metals, solids, oil, organics, acids, and other pollutants. Staff members get involved in stormwater policy and regulatory program development at the federal and regional levels and frequently consult on stormwater treatability.
Every system they develop has custom components, with three main packages as standard. “We customize components like where the water flows in, where the water flows out, and how it integrates to an existing storm drain system. We call it integration engineering; we integrate to almost any site,” Noling explains. He compares it to municipal wastewater treatment systems consisting of primary, secondary, and tertiary stages, with units strung together in what they call a treatment train.
Two of the standard packages, Clara and Aquip, can take the form of an above-ground moveable steel box, a below-ground enclosed concrete vault, or below-ground open cast-in-place concrete, with the water quality desired determining which to use. In-ground systems provide only rudimentary treatment, mainly separation of pollutants from the water, but allow a high flowrate. The above-ground model -- dubbed the “blue box” -- is designed for a much higher level of water quality, but it doesn’t pass as much water.
“We do all the product design and fabrication of the piping components or anything that attaches to the structure, and we outsource the design and fabrication of the structure itself,” Noling says in explaining how they fabricate systems. “For our steel system, we happened to be starting our business at the same time a metal fabricator here locally was starting theirs. So, I like to think we helped create two businesses by starting ours.”
With 10 employees, StormwateRx occupies 5000 square feet, half of it office space for administration, engineering, marketing, sales, R&D, and an analytical lab, and the remainder for fabrication. They do extensive work with PVC pipe, and engineers use CAD to design components.
As StormwateRx’s newest product, Clara acts as a stormwater settling system that removes floatable materials, grit, and solids within a gravity-driven system. Pollutants are contained off-line until the system is maintained. Clara has flowrates up to 1100 gpm (gallons per minute), sediment storage capacity of up to 10 cubic yards, and oil storage capacity of up to 650 gallons.
Clara serves as a pre-treatment means for the Aquip, which uses a sand filtration process. Aquip is designed to reduce pollutants such as oil, suspended solids, turbidity, and heavy metals including dissolved types like zinc, copper, and lead as well as organics and nutrients from industrial and construction sites.
A third, or tertiary, product, AquiPlus acts as a polishing add-on to the Aquip for challenging stormwater applications such as dissolved metals removal to the parts per billion (ppb) range, bacteria elimination such as E coli, and turbidity reduction to single-digit NTU standards. AquiPlus nests under the Aquip system. As these systems operate, filters eventually becomes plugged – an indication they’re working -- and the media gets replaced, with the old one typically going to a landfill.
In one application, Emerald Galvanizing in Seattle had struggled to meet benchmarks set by the facility’s Washington Industrial Stormwater General Permit, with the zinc benchmark the most difficult to achieve. StormwateRx came up with a design to divert the building roof runoff to a tank for reuse as process water. Stormwater is pumped to an above-ground treatment train consisting of the Aquip 50SBE system that gravity feeds the IXPlus 50, an integrated system that delivers the filtered water to an ion exchange polishing system.
Another customer, Seaview Boatyard operates four boatyards in Washington’s Puget Sound area for recreational boaters, commercial fisherman, and the yachting community, offering boat repair and maintenance services. The company has installed stormwater pollution control systems at three locations. Its Aquip systems are designed to remove boatyard pollutants such as copper, zinc, and total suspended solids (TSS). StormwateRx says the company reduced pollutants in its stormwater by up to 99 percent.
In implementing its designs, StormwateRx sometimes works with consulting engineering firms, typically on more complex or larger jobs that may involve a special pollutant. They usually work with the end user or business owner, who may not be an engineer. The customer often has fabrication people on staff for the job. “We deal with all kinds of people when we integrate our equipment to a site,” Noling explains. “If a consulting engineer is involved on the project, we communicate with them the key aspects of our product and how they work and then leave the infrastructure design to them. But if customers want us to do the design of piping or put in a pumping system that will convey the water to our system or gravity drain from our system, we can do all that in the states in which we’re licensed.” These include Oregon, Washington, California, and Hawaii.
Reflecting on his venture, Noling comments, “It’s working well. We’re still a small company, and we have a lot of growth yet to achieve. This year has been a turning point for us. It’s been really fun, really enjoyable.”
Part of the optimism stems from seeing beyond the company’s current role in the industrial stormwater scenario. “Stormwater is a valuable water resource, and it’s suitable for reuse or reclamation,” Noling says. “Right now, the business environment and our customer base see our systems as a remedy for permit compliance, but the long-term vision for us and the foundation for the design of our products is that we produce water quality good enough for reuse, and when companies can see the value of that water, we’ll be positioned to provide it to them. Our tag line is: reclaiming the world’s water.”
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