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BASF sets standards for wastewater treatment. (International Coatings Scene).

Germany is well known for its rigorous environmental policies. A nation of compulsive recyclers and users of biodegradable products, the Germans have long considered environmental issues to be a top priority. So it's no surprise to find that BASF, the world's largest chemical company, headquartered in Germany, is setting standards for waste disposal. Since its inception in 1972, BASF Coatings' only German mechanico-biological wastewater treatment plant has been practicing effective water protection. Now celebrating 30 years in operation, the plant, which is based in Munster, is the only water plant in Germany operated by a paint manufacturer that cleans wastewater so stringently that it can be routed directly into a river after the treatment process.

This is a considerable achievement, as until relatively recently, Germany was not the eco-friendly nation it is today. In 1972, there were around 50,000 unregulated rubbish tips in the Federal Republic of Germany and commercial and domestic waste was dumped on the outskirts of all the major cities. "Contamination of the groundwater was a particular concern, as many people must use this water to obtain drinking water," said Helmut Schnurer of the German federal Ministry of the Environment. "Pollution arising from such contamination is often irreversible or can only be remediated at enormous cost."

Since 1990, BASF Coatings has reduced emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon monoxide by 50%. As a result, BASF has exceeded the targets set by both the German government and the United Nations. The target of the Climate Change Convention, signed on November 12, 2001 at the U.N. climate conference in Marrakech by members of the international community (with the exception of the U.S.), is to achieve a progressive reduction in the number of greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2% (compared to 1990) by 2012. The German government has set itself the target of a 21% reduction, of which 18% has so far been achieved.

How it Works

At BASF's plant, approximately 97% of organic matter is digested with the aid of bacteria, a performance that other treatment plants have so far failed to match, according to the company. The wastewater arrives at the treatment plant via its own drainage system, while the rainwater falling on the site is mechanically cleaned in a separate settling lagoon. If the monitoring equipment in the feed line to the lagoon detects contamination, the rainwater is also rerouted to the wastewater drainage system. Next, the larger solid items are trapped behind a grill, and wastewater from production and application technologies flow into tanks where ingredients identified as "indigestible" by the bacteria are removed.

Microorganisms digest the organic substances in the wastewater, breaking them down into carbon dioxide and water. Excess organic sludge created as the bacteria breed is dried, pressed and incinerated to produce energy. The treated wastewater is then pumped into the Emmerbach, a nearby small river, which undergoes ongoing monitoring.

The efficacy of the plant's water cleansing techniques today owe something to an accident that occurred in the mid-1980s which changed the way BASF operated its plant. When an accidental release of solvents from the distillation unit severely affected the biological treatment process, BASF altered its water pollution control policy. "From an `edge of pipe' approach, we focused after this point on primary control measures," said Michael Golek of BASF Coatings AG's communications department.

These primary control methods included reducing the wastewater quantity and contamination levels by closing off the cooling water circuit, substituting raw materials and optimizing different operations which use water. The volume of wastewater has been reduced to less than one-fifth of what it was. In 1972, 2,200 cubic meters of wastewater passed through the treatment plant every day; today that figure is closer to 430 cubic meters. This has been made possible by the development of eco-efficient manufacturing processes and products such as powder coatings and UV-curable paint.

Advantages Gained

Implementing these measures had several advantages: they reduced the consumption of resources, reduced secondary pollution from emissions and wastes resulting from the treatment process; and reduced pollution transfer, such as the wastewater treatment sludge.

Technical safety measures were also introduced to avoid repetition of the incident. These involved the continual online measurement of the TOC (total organic carbon) levels in the wastewater using an alarm/control system. "Whenever the TOC exceeds a defined limit, the wastewater is diverted into a catchment basin," said Dr. Golek. "Depending on the wastewater characteristics, it can be re-pumped in controlled amounts to the treatment process."

BASF continues to search for ways to increase the efficacy of water treatment. "We will further concentrate our efforts in the search for primary measures to reduce the wastewater quantity and contamination," said Dr. Golek. "The optimization of the treatment process and equipment is an ongoing process that will proceed in the future."

As BASF continues to search for ways to increase the efficacy of water treatment, the local environmental department is keeping an eye on the company's progress. "BASF's sewage plant meets German environmental requirements," said Rolf Winters of the Federally-owned Environmental Agency of Munster. "We continually monitor the standard of the treated wastewater after it leaves the plant and the results of our monitoring show that the emission levels are significantly below the threshold values."
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Author:Veltman, Chloe
Publication:Coatings World
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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