The fall season has arrived in full speed, and many of us take the opportunity to prepare our homes and offices by performing a thorough cleaning to get us through the winter months. Not that long ago, it was common practice to dispose of almost every cleaning supply down the drain. Today, this indiscriminate disposal of chemicals to the sanitary sewer is not acceptable or permitted.
All of Fort Detrick's drain systems are ultimately connected to sanitary sewer lines. The effluent from these drain systems eventually goes to the Fort Detrick Waste Water Treatment Plant. Some chemicals can interfere with the proper functioning of this treatment plant and can affect the water quality of the Monocacy River, which is where Fort Detrick's treated wastewater eventually ends. This time of year and again during spring cleaning, it is good to refresh ourselves with Fort Detrick policies that are in place that protect the local water sources by restricting what can be emptied into drains.
During the past year, this installation reported increased phosphorus levels in the water exiting our waste water treatment plant into the Monocacy River. The increase was reported to the Maryland Department of Environment as the amount was beyond allowable permit levels. Fort Detrick takes pride in ensuring all that is done here is carefully examined with our environmental footprint in mind. This cannot occur again.
Our permit limits phosphorus to 0.3 milligrams per liter in wastewater. That is what the state allows in order to move forward with restoration efforts of the Chesapeake Bay. High levels of phosphorous can lead to increased algae growth, which will block the sun and decrease the amount of oxygen in water. Therefore, this becomes harmful to aquatic life.
According to the Maryland Department of Environment, polluted wastewater is one of the major contributors entering and damaging the bay. In recent years, Maryland has become very stringent by passing laws designed specifically to protect our waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, which is a national treasure constituting the largest estuary in the United States, and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world.
Fort Detrick has Regulation 200-7 in place, which addresses what is not permitted to be introduced into the waterway originating from Fort Detrick. These include but are not limited to:
- Fire and/or explosion hazards within the drain system
- Inadvertent mixing, within the drain system, of incompatible chemicals from different laboratories - Corrosion of drainpipes
- Hazardous chemical exposure to plumbers
- Escape of volatile, toxic and/or malodorous substances
- Biocidal action on microorganisms (killing of sewage treatment plant "bugs") necessary for the normal and effective operation of waste water treatment plants
- Addition of unacceptable amounts of toxic substances (e.g., certain heavy metals) to sewage sludge and effluent
- Addition of solid or viscous pollutants resulting in obstruction to the flow of the sewage treatment system
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, housekeeping, janitorial operations, and process cleaning or sanitizing can be sources of significant amounts of phosphorus that are released to wastewater treatment plants. Many traditional cleaning chemicals use phosphorus, including phosphoric acid or trisodium phosphate, as active ingredients for effective cleaning. Alternative low- and non-phosphorus cleaners are effective and available. Additionally, using clean-in-place systems can reduce chemical and water use.
To assist anyone on Fort Detrick with questions regarding what can be disposed of through drains, the Fort Detrick USAG Environmental Management Office has developed the "Ask First" campaign to remind staff to contact the office before disposing any questionable substances down a drain.
Stickers are available to post in your building that provide the appropriate number to call with specific questions about whether a chemical is suitable for sink disposal. Remember to always "Ask First."
If you have any questions or would like more information on the Ask First campaign, please contact the USAG Environmental Management Office at 301-619-0044.