image_mini         Samples of untreated and treated effluent from the Whitewater Processing Co in southwestern Ohio

The above photo is the bottom line: The normal level of biological oxygen demand (BOD) of effluent is about 200 BOD.  The bottle on the left has a BOD of 800.  The bottle on the right contains less than 5 BOD, and the Ohio EPA cheerfully lets it be released directly into the nearby Whitewater River, a popular playground for canoers, kayakers and fishermen.

The Kopp family has run Whitewater Processing Co since the 1930s and currently employs 110 people.  The company slaughters and processes from 6-8 thousand turkeys on a normal workday, translating into 2.5 to 3 million pounds of turkey in an average month—and lots of wastewater.

In the 1990s, the Ohio EPA became concerned with the operation because of the amount of effluent being released so near the Whitewater River. The total cost for the construction of the proposed Whitewater pretreatment facility, hook-up and use of the treatment plant over 20 years was estimated at $12,500,000.

In an attempt to gain a clear understanding of their options in processing effluent, Whitewater partnered with Karen Manci, an environmental scientist and Ohio State University Extension water quality specialist.

Manci had just finished a study about using a sand bioreactor system to treat wastewater from a cheese-making plant, a system that established bioreactors’ ability to treat high-fat, high-organic-matter wastewater for a reasonable cost.

In 2001, Whitewater began to fund research in Manci’s lab to determine if the bioreactors would solve their effluent problem in a more cost-effective way.  The funding continued for the many years that Manci, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers ran feasibility test after test in the lab.

And it turned out Manci’s bioreactor was both feasible and cost-effective.  It cost $1,000,000 to build the wastewater treatment system plus an estimated $1,800,000 to operate and maintain it over the next 20 years—saving $10,000,000 over the originally proposed system.

Here’s how Manci’s odor-free, first-of-its-kind bioreactor system works:  Wastewater is first screened to remove as much of the suspended solids as possible before it flows through beds of sand and gravel.

Microbes quickly populate the surface of the sand grains and gravel pieces, where they feast on the organic matter, breaking it down and removing it from the water, which, after that treatment, runs clear.

And here are the mechanics that make the system work:

image_previewWorkers spread fine sand over gravel in a bioreactor cell at Whitewater Processing, Inc.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Kopp, Project Manager.

image_preview-1Workers lay perforated pipes over the sand to distribute wastewater in a bioreactor cell.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Kopp, Project Manager.

image_preview-2Gravel covers the sand and pipes, and valves sit on top of the gravel for periodic flushing of the pipes. Photo courtesy of Ryan Kopp, Project Manager.

My Take on this latest practical and environmentally sound innovation to emerge from OSU’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences:  Kudos to Manci for her vision.

Kudos to the Kopp family for their support of and faith in Manci’s project.

And final kudos to Ohio’s EPA, who were patient with the long development period of the project and who were willing to scale down their requirements for extra bioreactor cells when Manci’s research proved them unnecessary.

Source:    OSU News from the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, November 19, 2012



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