Landfill operators forever work to stay on top of a diverse and complex mix of leachate contaminants—heavy metals, ammonia, and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), among them; but lately, they think about even more. For one: how to keep concentrations of these contaminants within wastewater treatment’ plant’s tightening discharge limits. Add to this concern the possibility of more compliance pressure as the constituents’ list on regulators’ radar grows. From microplastics to PFAS and PFOA, the latter sometimes called the “elephant in the room” –some operators are preparing for what may be down the pike.
Among strategies, some are looking at are on-site leachate treatment options, and there are several. Finding the most fitting, sustainable, and cost-effective one takes vetting. This continuing blog series explores studies conducted by SCS Engineers for operators nationwide. Here you will get an inside look at what these leachate management experts found, what treatment system they recommend in each scenario, and why.
A Solution to a Nebraska Landfill’s Rising Leachate Volumes
A Nebraska landfill needs to manage its rising volumes of leachate, causing disruptions to operations. The liquid goes into a 20,000-gallon tank, is pumped into a tanker, and is driven to the municipal wastewater treatment plant. The tank was filling so fast that the operator has trouble staffing and scheduling its few commercial driver’s-licensed operators to haul it. This logistical task has become a near-daily necessity. Sometimes the liquid level indicator will go off on the weekend. Management has to move quickly, sometimes on a dime, find someone to come in, and pay overtime.
“The staffing challenge is the main issue that brought the operators to SCS. They want to understand the whole leachate management structure better, and as we answer their questions, they want to know how we can improve the overall system in the long-term, says Zach Mahon, the SCS staff professional who works on the project. “After an extensive assessment, we provide options whereby the operator no longer has to pump leachate to a holding tank and then truck it to the wastewater treatment plant. And we provide site-specific recommendations to take their leachate management practices further,” he says.
Mahon and the SCS team of leachate management experts headed to the landfill to talk to operations staff and get their historical generation records, which is the basis they start with for their assessment. “We correlate the landfill information with our research to determine yearly generation figures as well as a peak generation number over the landfill’s projected life. This site is expanding, and we want to size the equipment so that when it reaches capacity, the system can handle the higher volume,” Mahon says.
SCS plans in other ways to ensure the recommended technology will take its client into the future on solid footing. For instance, accounting for the reality that operators may one day have to remove per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to send their multi-thousands of gallons of leachate to their wastewater treatment plant each year. Operators are keenly aware that utilities and regulators are looking with more scrutiny at PFAS and other emerging contaminants of concern.
Through due diligence, SCS engineers came up with three treatment options. Mahon explains each:
Install a leachate force main. This system includes a pipe with a pump that pushes the liquid through the force main, directly to the sewer line and, ultimately, to the municipal treatment plant. The pump kicks in automatically, negating the need to have drivers in the wings at all times. This system is quick to build and fairly simple to operate. It is the least expensive of the modifications that SCS vetted.
Install a leachate evaporator, which heats the liquids and evaporates the water molecules. This system reduces leachate volume by 90%. Managing liquids on-site eliminates dependency on drivers, but on the wastewater treatment plant too. The gas-fueled system is suited for sites with surplus landfill gas to help cut their operational costs.
Install a reverse osmosis treatment (RO) system where material passes through a membrane, which separates contaminants. RO treatment can reduce contaminated water by 90%, typically rendering it clean enough to discharge directly to surface water with appropriate permits. Or, it can be discharged to the city sewer, eliminating the permitting step.
“For each leachate treatment option, we looked at cost, the feasibility of short- and long-term implementation, and regulatory acceptance,” Mahon says. “We deliver the data with these priorities in mind, make our recommendations, and leave it to our client to decide.”
What did the SCS team recommend in this scenario?
“We suggested the force main. It solves the primary operational issue around staffing. And the economics of this comparatively inexpensive system make sense in these times when landfills are dealing with astronomical leachate management costs, among other increasing operating and capital expenses,” he says. This option does more than meet the client’s most immediate needs at a minimal cost. It provides the option to upgrade should regulators’ requirements around leachate change or should the wastewater treatment plant tighten its discharge limits. We design the modular system to add on reverse osmosis if necessary in the future. Thus, we help ensure that our client will continue having a home for its leachate.
A value-add, regardless of the operators’ decision, is more knowledge. SCS clients have a deeper understanding of industry standards. They are also more aware of how the industry is shifting in managing leachate and how these shifts could affect them. We follow up with technical bulletins explaining proposed and final federal rules in plain language influencing their operations, deadlines, and how to provide feedback to the appropriate agencies.
“We provide a lot of data to continuously inform our clients and to help them compare their operational costs now to what they would be if they invest in a new leachate management strategy. We ensure they fully understand each option’s capabilities to decide if it pencils out for their budget and operations. They have what they need to make informed decisions for a hands-off system to take them into the future,” Mahon says.