State's Pollution Prevention Program is a win-win

An opportunity to save money while promoting a safe and environmentally sustainable work environment

Over the past 25 years, there is one thing that we have learned for certain — businesses can invest in pollution prevention processes and be more profitable at the same time. Eliminating or reducing waste at the source saves businesses money by reducing their regulatory burden and their solid and hazardous waste management costs.

The New Hampshire Pollution Prevention Program (NHPPP) was established in 1991 to help businesses comply with regulations, prevent pollution and save money and resources. Since then, the program has provided free, confidential assistance to businesses, municipalities and organizations throughout the state.

Along with site visits, NHPPP offers pollution prevention workshops, answers requests for information from both businesses and individuals, and has developed award-winning guidance documents that assist companies in reducing their wastes.

Over the years, the NHPPP has worked on projects with many different sectors of the community — marinas, hospitals, dental offices, the automobile, ski and hospitality industries, municipalities, and schools. Each project focuses on issues specific to those industries and offers suggestions to reduce energy use, water consumption, and waste.

Here’s an example of how NHPPP works with companies to find solutions: A company that manufactures rubber-backed steel washers used a manufacturing process that flushed wastewater containing high levels of copper to the sewer. These levels were higher than allowed by their town’s wastewater treatment facility. The company was puzzled. Where was the copper coming from? They manufactured the washers from steel.

Treatment solutions had been suggested that would cost the company approximately $40,000-$60,000. This approach would remove the copper from the wastewater, but still create hazardous waste (copper) which would involve additional management and cost.

The NHPPP was asked to conduct a site visit to look at the company’s manufacturing process from start to finish. NHPPP found that the source of the copper was coming from a wire brush used to clean a mold release agent from clamshell-like molds used in the process of adhering the rubber to the washer. This cleaning process took place in a vat of sodium hydroxide.

As it turned out, the mold cleaning brushes had brass bristles and the brushes were left hanging in the hot acid bath. Little by little, the sodium hydroxide was leaching the copper out of the brass bristles. To correct the problem the company simply needed to switch to a stainless steel brush.

For the price of a stainless steel brush and a phone call, this company eliminated the copper pollution at the source.

To reach more businesses, the NHPPP has partnered with the University of New Hampshire Chemical Engineering Department to establish a long-lasting internship program. Since 1993, over 120 UNH students have worked with 70 New Hampshire companies on pollution prevention projects with the common goal of reducing or eliminating waste and saving money.

To date, companies have reported combined cost savings of over $5 million. The benefits for both parties are great: the student acquires real-world experience, and the company has the opportunity to save money while promoting a safe and environmentally sustainable work environment.

Thomas Burack is commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Categories: Opinion