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Clean Water

Clean Water Act (CWA)

Wastewaters at food processing facilities are generated during slaughter operations, chilling, further processing, and plant sanitation. These wastewaters contain a variety of pollutants (blood, feathers, soluble solids, cleaners, sanitizers, etc.) and are regulated by federal, state, and sometimes local government agencies under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

Pollutants regulated under the CWA include "priority" pollutants, including various toxic pollutants; "conventional" pollutants, such as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), fecal coliform, oil and grease, and pH; and "non-conventional" pollutants, any pollutant not identified as either conventional or priority. The CWA regulates both direct and indirect discharges.

Federal regulations target three types of industrial discharges:

  1. Direct Discharges
  2. Indirect Discharges
  3. Land Application

The regulation of these discharges is discussed below. Also discussed below are national effluent guidelines for wastewater discharges that are specific to certain segments of the food processing sector.

Direct discharges – Food processing facilities that discharge wastewater, cooling water and/or storm water straight to surface waters (or through any conveyance system through which water flows and then discharges directly to surface waters, i.e. through a point source) are direct dischargers.

Direct dischargers must obtain a permit under EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. A NPDES permit sets limits, often referred to as effluent limits, on the amount of pollutants that can be discharged to surface waters. For certain catgories of facilities, national minimum limits have been established by EPA, which are referred to as effluent guidelines (these are discussed at the end of this section).

As part of the NPDES permit application, you will be required to analyze your industrial wastewater for BOD, COD, total organic carbon (TOC), TSS, ammonia (as N), temperature and pH. In addition, your food processing facility will likely be required to analyze your industrial wastewater for oil and grease, and may be required to analyze for additional parameters (e.g. total phosphorus or total nitrogen) based on water quality standards applicable to the receiving water, and any applicable state regulations. While the effluent limits and other requirements in your permit will be specific to your facility, there are conditions applicable to all permits, sample collection, and sample analysis.

If you are a direct discharger you should contact your EPA Regional Office or State regulatory agency to find out how to obtain a NPDES permit.

The NPDES Permit:

  • Specifies the amount of pollutants (e.g., effluent limits) that can be discharged based on categorical effluent standards that are based on available wastewater treatment technology or on the specific treatment technology or on specific water quality standards of the surface water.
  • Generally requires a facility to routinely conduct monitoring and submit reports (requirements are determined on a facility specific basis).
  • Requires that all records related to monitoring be maintained by the facility for at least three years.
  • May contain other site specific requirements, such as construction schedules, best management practices, additional monitoring for non-regulated pollutants, and spill prevention plans.

For facilities in coastal areas, states may include stricter permit limits in order to meet the requirements of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA).

Indirect discharges - Food processing facility’s that discharge wastewater into a sewer system that leads to a municipal treatment plant, also known as Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) are indirect dischargers. The POTW typically is owned by the local municipality or a regional board or sewer authority.

In response to potential problems caused by industrial wastewater being discharged into POTW’s, federal pretreatment regulations were developed. These regulations apply to all industrial facilities, including food processing facilities. Local POTW’s with approved pretreatment programs have responsibility for enforcing pretreatment requirements. The POTW’s have permit criteria similar to NPDES permits (i.e., maximum pH, TSS, BOD, etc.,) but they are set and enforced by the POTW. Therefore, to ensure compliance you should contact your local POTW, even if you have already contacted the State or EPA region.

If you are an indirect discharger you need to:

  • Obtain a copy of the state and/or local sewer use regulations or ordinance by contacting your state and/or local POTW to determine what requirements apply to your facility.
  • Contact the POTW or state to determine whether your facility must obtain a permit. Even if you are not required to obtain a permit you may be required to obtain approval for your wastewater discharge.
  • Meet, at a minimum, the federal pretreatment standards. Pretreatment standards are in place to prevent the user from introducing any pollutant which can cause Pass Through or Interference into any POTW.
  • Verify whether your wastewater discharge is meeting the effluent limits in your permit (if you have one).
  • Conduct monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping activities and maintain records for all samples collected for at least three years.

Land application - Land application discharges include any wastewater from an industrial facility that is discharged to land to either condition the soil or to fertilize crops or other vegetation grown in the soil.

Land application is generally regulated by the state and may require a permit. The permit is designed to regulate contaminants in the wastewater, and ensure that the wastewater does not run off into nearby waterways.

Some typical requirements may include:

  • A “no discharge” requirement prohibiting runoff to waterways
  • Prohibitions of land application (including spraying) during wet weather or when the ground is frozen
  • Monitoring of pollutant levels in the wastewater sludge (i.e. solids in the wastewater)
  • Limits on the amount of pollutants and the amount of wastewater applied
  • Installation of monitoring wells and monitoring ground water
  • Installation of a pretreatment system to pretreat wastewater before land application

Check with your state regulatory agency for more information on requirements for your area.

Effluent Guidelines – Effluent Guidelines are national standards for wastewater discharges to surface waters (direct discharges) and publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) (indirect discharges). EPA issues effluent guidelines for categories of industrial sources. The standards are technology-based, i.e. they are based on the performance of treatment and control technologies (e.g., Best Available Technology). Effluent guidelines are not based on risk or impacts of pollutants upon receiving waters. The following effluent Guidelines have been established for the food processing sector;

Stormwater—Food processing facilities must either obtain permit coverage or submit a no exposure certification form for stormwater associated with their operations. If new construction is planned, a separate stormwater permit is needed.

Industrial Activities. Activities, such as material handling and storage, equipment maintenance and cleaning, industrial processing or other operations that occur at industrial facilities are often exposed to stormwater. The runoff from these areas may discharge pollutants directly into nearby waterbodies or indirectly via storm sewer systems, thereby degrading water quality.

In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed permitting regulations under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to control stormwater discharges associated with eleven categories of industrial activity. As a result, NPDES permitting authorities, which may be either EPA or a state environmental agency, issue stormwater permits to control runoff from these industrial facilities.

The industrial stormwater program requires permit coverage for a number of specified types of industrial activities. However, when a facility is able to prevent the exposure of ALL relevant activities and materials to precipitation, it may be eligible to claim no exposure and qualify for a waiver from permit coverage.

If you are regulated under the industrial permitting program, you must either obtain permit coverage or submit a no exposure certification form, if available.

Throughout most of the nation, EPA has delegated the stormwater program to the states to administer as they see fit, so long as minimum federal requirements are met. Therefore, in most states you will submit your no exposure certification or permit application to your state environmental agency.

However, some states may not yet have the authority to administer this program. For the following states, you need to submit your certification or permit application to your Regional EPA office: Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire Texas, Florida, Maine, and Arizona. If your facility is in one of these states, we suggest contacting both your Regional EPA office and state agency to find out where to submit your paperwork.

Additional Resources for Stormwater Associated with Industrial Activities
For more information on state rules regarding industrial stormwater discharges use the Food Processing Stormwater Resource Locator.

EPA Fact sheet: http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/sector_u_food.pdf

Construction. Stormwater runoff from construction activities can have a significant impact on water quality. As stormwater flows over a construction site, it can pick up pollutants like sediment, debris, and chemicals and transport these to a nearby storm sewer system or directly to a river, lake, or coastal water. Polluted stormwater runoff can harm or kill fish and other wildlife.

The NPDES stormwater program requires construction site operators engaged in clearing, grading, and excavating activities that disturb 1 acre or more to obtain coverage under an NPDES permit for their stormwater discharges. Although these are federal rules, they are implemented by state environmental agencies (except for Massachusetts, New Mexico, Alaska, Idaho and New Hampshire where EPA retains authority). To obtain forms and more information on application procedures and permit requirements for construction projects in your state, use the CICA Stormwater Resource Locator (SWRL).

Additional Resources for Stormwater Associated with Construction Activities
For more information on stormwater associated with construction activities see the Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center (CICA Center).

Food Processing Environmental Assistance Center
Purdue University, Food Science Building, 745 Agriculture Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47906
Phone: 765-494-7997 • FAX: 765-494-7953

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