Life happens. Mistakes and accidents happen. Brewery spills happen.
As with most things in the brewery wastewater world, depending on where you’re at, they can be no big deal at all or they can be a major issue. In the wastewater world, a spill at a brewery would often be considered a slug load. These are bad. Read on for more.
What is a spill?
We all know that in a brewery beer, wort, yeast, and CIP chemicals routinely make their way down the drain in small amounts. The regular and the routine are not what we’re talking about here. I’m talking about the abnormal. A hose never got connected to a fermenter and an entire brew went down the drain. Someone spilled a 55-gal drum of caustic. The hot liquor tank drain valve was left open. You get the idea. What next?
Make no mistake, accidents like this happen and they can have a very significant impact on the local wastewater treatment plant, especially if the spill is big and the treatment plant is small. This is a hard topic to write about. There are so many things that can spill, and so many different ways to go about dealing with them.
Generally speaking, a spill at a brewery will not be poisonous or contain hazardous wastes. They will be things like beer, wort, yeast, caustic, or acid. They all present their problems, and they’re all major events when spilled in large amounts.
What to do:
First steps to consider:
- Contain the spill in as safe a manner as possible.
- Consider shutting down the your lift station to isolate the spill in there.
- Call the local wastewater treatment plant.
A lot of the “what to do’s” are site specific. We can’t say shut down the lift station if it only holds 250 gallons…
The first thing to do in the event of a spill is tell someone. Don’t pretend it never happened. Can you shut pumps down or close valves to isolate it in a lift station or in your EQ tank?
If there is a major chemical spill, first consider the life safety compenent. Put up barricades or caution tape and make sure no one walks into the area. Do you have a pretreatment system? It’s usually best to send the chemical down the drain and isolate it in a downstream tank. Don’t try to vacuum, squeegee, or absorb it all. That’s far too dangerous (slips, splashes, fumes…). Wash it down the drain, isolate it in a wastewater tank, and make sure the areas are safe. Once isolated you can figure out your next steps. When designing you wastewater system flexibility is key. If you don’t have a wastewater tank to isolate the spill in, call whoever is downstream.
A calamity tank
A spare tank is not a bad idea if you have the space, it’s called a ‘calamity tank’. Under normal conditions this tank would be kept empty. If there is a spill, put it all in here, then keep running your brewery like normal. Make your phone calls to figure out how to dispose of it and do it. Eventually the tank will be empty again and ready when you need it. A tank like this is not a waste of money, it is a cheap insurance policy and will prove itself useful many times for your brewery.
The spill that would cause me the biggest headaches was a propylene glycol spill. By now you are hopefully familiar with BOD. Propylene glycol is the cooling medium circulating in the jackets of your fermenters and bright beer tanks. It has a very high BOD, much higher than wort, beer, or spent yeast! So a little spill leads to many pounds of BOD to dispose of.
A spill that is primarily BOD, such as beer, wort, or yeast should be isolated in the calamity tank and hauled off site and land applied as fertilizer. The other option is to slowly discharge this water to sewer every day for several days or weeks. Don’t try to dilute it, dilution does not fix the problem.
A large spill of acid or caustic should be isolated in the calamity tank and neutralized with caustic or acid. Once neutralized it can be discharged to sewer.