CHICAGO — Water is one of the most important substances on the planet.
People and animals need water to survive. Plants and ecosystems need water to grow and produce food and other essential elements.
And laundry operations need water to process soiled goods for their customers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states: “Water is essential for life and the vitality of our economy and communities. It is EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment, and there are a number of challenges we are facing when it comes to water.
“Across the country, our water and wastewater infrastructure is in need of replacement and repairs to deliver clean, safe water to residents.
“Infrastructure upgrades must be addressed even in the midst of other challenges such as legacy toxins, emerging threats from pathogens and contaminants, population changes, climate change, including natural disasters and aging infrastructure.”
The challenges mentioned by the EPA reach deep into industrial laundry operations. Year after year, plants have to deal with drought, pollution and other factors to have the water necessary to process goods and to help ensure the availability of clean water once the job is done.
And every year, water pressures seem to grow.
“Every laundry operator is faced with different regulations and compliance factors,” says Richard Marzo, vice president of marketing and sales for Lace House Linen Supply in Petaluma, California.
“As an operator in California, we typically see new environmental laws first and then they trickle out to the rest of the U.S. Needless to say, being compliant in California can be a steep learning curve and also very costly.
“The statewide drought and environmental concerns over micro-plastics and PFAS/PFOA (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are issues that are here to stay and preparing for the most intense (regulatory) outcome is key. Plants that have an existing wastewater treatment process are in a better position to add the right technology to meet new requirements.
“Eventually, these new regulations will make their way to every state and operators should anticipate investing in wastewater treatment equipment.”
DEALING WITH WATER REGULATIONS
Marzo observes that growth and development are great for potential business, but it also means more people and businesses are competing for water, which is a finite resource.
“Because of the scale of our industry, it is easier for politicians to draft legislation that affects us rather than the individual consumer,” he says.
“It is best to assume that regulations and requirements will continue to be more onerous, and being prepared is the best and only way to survive. Depending on the current regulations in your area and your facility’s existing wastewater treatment, an operator should be prepared to make significant upgrades.
“Even operators with existing wastewater equipment will need to add new filtrations because the new limits for PFAS/PFOA are being measured in ‘parts per million.’ This is a significant departure from existing compliance limits and more resources will need to be allocated to meet the new requirements.”
One of the most important roles that the laundry industry can play in these new regulations is to participate in the legislative process, Marzo says.
“In California, we have been active through TRSA’s lobbying efforts to meet with elected officials and help them understand that industrial laundries are not adding PFAS/PFOA to the groundwater,” he shares.
“We are a ‘pass-through’ industry that is processing the same materials that individual consumers are washing at home. The main purpose of these new regulations is to reduce ‘fast fashion’ items from going to the landfill and then into the water table.
“Our industry is reusable, and our actions are better for the environment versus disposable products. We need to educate our elected officials of our industry’s stewardship of resources.”
Ken Koepper, director of member and industry relations for TRSA, says that clearing the way for the industry to continue installation of systems everywhere to reuse and recycle water remains a priority for the association.
“Local authorities, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) all have been parties to derailing this practice,” he says.
IAPMO, keeper of the United Plumbing Code, is the current key target, according to Koepper. Some municipal authorities use the Code’s provisions that make water reuse/recycling difficult.
“In St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, heat reclamation systems can be disapproved,” he says.
“Los Angeles County also adheres closely to these provisions. Reuse/recycling projects proceed, however, where authorities don’t follow the Code to the letter. TRSA is working with IAPMO to revise the Code to create consistency.”
Local authorities’ use of the Code provision that incorporates NSF’s voluntary standard for reused water quality is largely responsible for this obstacle, Koepper points out.
“Its terminology referring to laundries is meant for coin laundries, which don’t pretreat; it calls for reused water quality calls equivalent to the cleanliness level stipulated for publicly owned treatment works’ (POTW) discharges into water sources after they’ve treated sewer influent,” he says.
“Linen and uniform service laundries need not achieve that level to produce hygienically clean textiles but often come close.”
Koepper shares that TRSA secured a letter from NSF clarifying that such laundries don’t fall under the NSF standard, but it still needs to be eliminated from the Code, as TRSA has proposed language to strip it.
“Otherwise, the risk continues that reuse projects could be derailed, including tunnel washer installation,” he points out.
This issue is becoming timelier as pressure grows to reduce water use in states in the Colorado River basin, particularly the lower portion, which contains California and Arizona.
“They’ve been strong followers of the NSF standard and implemented it through various plumbing codes,” Koepper says. “With Nevada, they agreed in principle with the federal government in May to conserve about 13% of their total allocation from the river. Washington will dedicate $1.2 billion in federal funds to cities, farmers, Native American tribes and others who voluntarily forgo their supplies.
“The federal deal with the states is an agreement to enable the Department of the Interior to analyze the funding package, which would include water recycling and treatment projects, pipelines, delivery systems, groundwater storage, rainwater harvesting and aquifer recharge. TRSA is monitoring the review to ensure linen and uniform services are protected.”
Sarah Brobeck, executive director of the Association for Linen Management (ALM), says PFAS is a very large concern impacting every aspect of the industry, including manufacturers of textiles, equipment, and chemicals, as well as laundry processors.
“To prepare, laundry processors should become educated on PFAS and monitor both federal and state efforts to address PFAS concerns, including wastewater testing and impacts to their specific operation,” she says.
“While educating and preparing operations are vital components, they are a small piece of a much larger picture. The magnitude of these changes and the potential impact on the entire textile care industry requires government officials be educated and understand the industry when making decisions addressing PFAS concerns.”
This industry representation is what TRSA provides, Brobeck says, and they are working diligently to represent the interests of the entire industry regarding PFAS.
“As part of these efforts, ALM and other industry associations (such as the American Reusable Textile Association-ARTA) are in collective agreement with TRSA’s position on ‘Addressing PFAS in the Environment,’” she shares. “By supporting their efforts, we strengthen our industry’s position and increase efforts with lawmakers.”
In the statement, TRSA shares that it is committed to partnering with key stakeholders on pragmatic and effective solutions to PFAS challenges.
“We believe that these approaches need to include risk-based federal regulation based on strong science, as well as collaboration on effective treatment and disposal technologies for wastewater and solids,” the association writes.
TRSA goes on to say regulation is important to all stakeholders and should be based on the following principles:
- The federal government should implement a consistent approach for assessing and regulating specific PFAS with clear timelines.
- Regulations should be based on the best available science.
- Specific PFAS should be regulated based on risk to protect human health and the environment.
- Regulatory outcomes should not be predetermined.
- PFAS compounds should be regulated independently or as appropriate sub-categories, not as a single group.
- Agencies should provide meaningful risk communication and regulatory transparency.
- EPA and other federal agencies should establish regular consultation with stakeholders.
- Congress should provide regulatory agencies with the proper oversight and funding necessary to evaluate and address specific priority PFAS.
“Water/sewer issues are very local or regional and cannot be trended nationally,” points out Bob Corfield, president and CEO of Laundry Design Group, a commercial laundry consultant with main offices in Las Vegas.
“Yes, there are EPA regulations that can affect every market, but adoption and funding for your local districts are what every laundry needs to keep an eye on.
“Stay connected to your local water district and POTW to determine their challenges or possible changes.”
Water issues aren’t going away anytime soon, so laundry operators need to be prepared with solutions to the challenges mentioned—and those to come.
“As an operator in California, which happens to be the sixth-largest economy in the world, we need to be prepared to work with less water, not more,” shares Marzo.
“The need to meet new regulations will be met by our industry, which is exactly what we have been doing since the EPA started enacting laws. Manufacturers have created new equipment with tremendous water savings and chemical companies continue to develop new products and formulas to work in conjunction.”
Corfield says that whatever technology a laundry selects, it is advisable to do a 360-degree water process review.
“Consider all formulas processed in whichever equipment you run and do not lose focus on your primary role: get linens/uniforms clean,” he says.
“We are involved in numerous investigations with textiles with bioburden in excess of hygienic standards due largely from not using enough water to clean. How little water you use can be a direct conflict with how clean your linen is.”
“The holy grail of the laundry industry washhouse is to have a closed loop with 100% recycled water but, in the meantime, we will continue to work on reducing the gallons per pound washed without affecting our ability to deliver a clean product,” Marzo says.
“Our industry understands the need to reduce energy consumption and increase water efficiency, and it is utilizing the latest technologies to help achieve these goals.”
Miss Part 1 about water challenges laundries face? Click HERE to read it.
Wastewater Systems and Laundry Operations (Part 1), April 28, 2020
Wastewater Systems and Laundry Operations (Part 2), April 30, 2020
Wastewater Systems and Laundry Operations (Part 3), May 5, 2020
Wastewater Systems and Laundry Operations (Conclusion), May 12, 2020
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].