Lately, landfill operators are putting stock in onsite landfill leachate treatment systems as a strategy to stay on top of increasing requirements in their already demanding regulatory world. Leachate treatment systems help meet tightening restrictions on liquids that landfills send to municipal wastewater treatment plants or discharge directly. And onsite leachate treatment gives operators a leg up should they one day have to deal with any emerging contaminants found on an expanding list.
With their eyes on compliance, landfill owners and operators are looking to leachate treatment systems that can ease the impact of soaring leachate disposal costs. Of course, the more contamination, the harder the hit since higher contaminants can mean higher municipal treatment plant surcharges or the landfill having to haul its leachate longer distances to a treatment plant that will accept it. Both examples usually result in higher treatment, disposal, and hauling costs.
A spike in its ammonia concentrations was enough impetus for one Oregon landfill operator to turn to SCS Engineers a few months ago. At its highest levels, the ammonia climbed to 50-fold what many small wastewater treatment plants, like the one in the Northwest, will take over the long-term.
Project Director Shane Latimer and Technical Lead Sam Cooke got on the stick to figure out how their client could keep hauling and disposing of leachate at the local wastewater treatment plant it has routinely relied on for years.
Coming up with a plan is a complex, multi-step process that requires looking through many lenses. To design a cost-effective, efficient treatment facility, Latimer and Cooke use an in-house multidisciplinary team of co-workers from Project Management, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Geotechnical Engineering. The team performs in-depth analyses to identify the most economical and feasible technology. A design that in this case not only addresses ammonia but prepares the operator for emerging contaminants, such as the possible need for per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) reduction, which Cooke describes as a train that has not yet arrived in Oregon but has left the station and is heading down the track.
Starting with the most immediate concern, Cooke says, “Our client had seen ammonia concentrations between 500 and 1,500 mg per liter, which is high. Acceptable ammonia levels can vary depending on the type of facility and how much leachate they expect to get compared to their total flow. But small treatment plants like the one our client depends on will set ammonia limits of about 25 or 30 mg per liter,” he says.
SCS begins with a leachate pretreatment options analysis to dive into details beyond ammonia levels – spikes in ammonia call for close attention. Still, there’s more to consider in masterminding a robust and fitting plan to manage the complex process.
“These are biological treatment systems, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. You need to know how these systems will react to whatever is in your leachate, so you have to account for more than ammonia, or whatever your constituents of concern are,” Latimer says.
SCS’s leachate contaminant analyses use the landfill’s historical data along with what they learn from tests that SCS orders to understand alkalinity, pH, and carbon, among other leachate chemistry puzzle pieces.
“We look at concentrations of raw leachate, flow rate, pretreatment requirements, and other factors. We want to get a comprehensive picture of the problem and ultimately make the best treatment decision to get compound concentrations down to acceptable discharge levels,” Latimer explains.
What customized solution did the team design for the client in Oregon? The system of choice is a membrane bioreactor (MBR), which combines membrane separation technology with traditional activated sludge technology with optional reverse osmosis treatment. The design is a compact, efficient, biological wastewater treatment plant.
“An MBR is an elegant solution. We found it to be a good choice for this application for several reasons. It takes up relatively little space and fits well within the available plant footprint. It produces a relatively low-volume waste sludge stream. And it can cost-effectively treat multiple constituents of concern, so should new leachate chemistry issues arise, an MBR can address many of them,” Cooke says.
Being able to handle multiple concerns if and when they arise is key here. Cooke and Latimer wanted not only to get the immediate problem in check but see that the client has a dynamic and robust system to tackle whatever new challenges may be down the road.
When SCS goes into design mode, they plan ahead by engineering modular systems to add additional treatment methods if and when they’re necessary.
“For instance, MBR treats the leachate to reduce ammonia, other nutrients, organics, and suspended solids. By leveraging this treatment method first, you eliminate a lot of the bulkier constituents. But we left room for a modular addition such as reverse osmosis for “polishing,” treating MBR discharge for other minor constituents including PFAS,” Cooke says.
The client who came to SCS for a relatively inexpensive remedy for an ammonia problem now has a feasible, economical asset for leachate management.
“These investments are good security for landfill operators,” says Latimer. “If a municipal wastewater treatment plant is struggling to meet its standards, eliminating one contributing source of wastewater, like a landfill, could potentially solve several issues, such as ammonia, biochemical oxygen demand, and total suspended solids.”
But these treatment systems provide added security for more than the landfill.
“When disposal sites invest in sound leachate treatment systems, it’s also good for municipal wastewater treatment plants. It assures them that landfill operators will help them with the overall regulatory burden. We are helping them both to prepare for present and future challenges,” says Latimer.