In September 2010, the EPA issued its 2011 – 2015 Strategic Plan. The plan has 2 goals, one, to protect human health and second, to protect and restore watershed and aquatic ecosystems. The EPA points to the following statistics for the urgency of their work:
• The rate at which waters are being listed for impairment exceeds the rate at which they are being restored
• Human health measures for contaminants are exceeded in one fifth of stream samples, and one third of groundwater wells
• Mercury and PCBs were detected in all fish tissue samples and nearly 50% of the nation’s lakes have mercury fish tissue concentrations above EPA recommended limits
• PCBs exceeded EPA recommended limits in 71% of lakes
• The amount of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution entering our waters has escalated dramatically
• Nitrate drinking water violations have doubled in eight years
• Algae blooms are steadily on the rise
• 37% of native freshwater aquatic species, including fish and insensitive invertebrates, are now at risk of extinction
The EPA says that a lot of progress has been made in the past 40 years but there is much more work to be done. In addition to the EPA’s statistics above, there are other dark clouds forming. The nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure has a long and successful history of controlling pollution and providing safe drinking water. However, there is growing concern in the water sector over the continuously expanding infrastructure and capital investment needed to continue this history. It is estimated to be over $600 billion over the next 20 years. The additional money needed is attributed to capital investment required to service new growth, complete deferred maintenance, repair and replace aging infrastructure, provide for the increasing competition for water, and the increased implementation of new technologies that protect human health and the environment. This is specifically where power washing and wastewater recovery come in; the EPA says “As financial resources continue to be stretched, protecting source waters from contamination will remain more cost effective than remediating the contamination. And while the Clean Water Act was designed to eliminate discharge of pollutants into “navigable” waters, more than half of the nation’s water bodies are now degraded. The problems are getting worse, not better.
Mike Hilborn, Executive Director of the PWNA met with the Metropolitan Council (Twin Cities POTW – Publicly Owned Treatment Works) and with 3 people of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (Twin Cities MS4s – Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems ) in early April of 2011. Enforcement was asked about and was told it is virtually non-existent at this time in the Twin Cities. The concern is that with all that is happening across the country, and especially in Houston, that someday soon someone from the EPA, other government department, or TV news station will witness/film a power washing contractor allowing soap, debris and other pollutants going down a storm drain. It could quickly turn political with restrictions put in place that could shut power washing down or putting unreasonable restrictions on it. One of the main reasons the two meetings were initiated was to communicate that professional fleet washing is part of the solution to clean water in our lakes rivers and streams. Here are 2 examples that were given:
• A national company was having their fleets cleaned every 2 weeks. A directive came down from corporate banning all fleet washing due to fears of the Clean Water Act. Now, instead of having their fleets cleaned on a regular basis, their drivers would have them washed occasionally. The mobile fleet wash company that was doing the washing had been collecting the wastewater and disposing of it properly to the sanitary sewer. What will happen now is the vehicles will not be washed regularly and all of the dirt, hydrocarbons and other pollutants will be rinsed off the truck when it rains going into storm drains and into our lakes and rivers.
• Another example given was a company that was having their fleet cleaned but then decided to change their practice, again, because of the Clean Water Act. When they were having the vehicles washed in the yard, the tractors and trailers were being cleaned and the wastewater was being recovered. Not only was the fleet cleaned, but the parking lot was being cleaned at the same time by the soap and water being used to wash the fleet. Visit that parking lot today and the pavement is filthy with oil stains. Now when it rains, the oil and hydrocarbons on the surface of the parking lot are now being washed into the storm drain and into our lakes, rivers and streams.
The illustrations above are just two examples of how fear of the Clean Water Act is actually contributing to the problem. Also discussed was other areas of power washing like exterior building cleaning, sidewalk cleaning, deck and wood restoration and house washing. Kitchen exhaust cleaning is critical to preventing the pollution a fire would create in addition to the health and safety of the food being prepared. Power washing and preventing the wastewater from entering storm drains is the solution to the problem and it is how the power washing industry is instrumental in protecting our lakes, rivers, streams and oceans. The municipal gentlemen in the meeting said they had never seen it from that perspective. Unintended consequences of well intentioned people is what we as power washing contractors need to help people see so they can make informed decisions. The two meetings we had were beneficial to everyone who attended. They now have real people, faces, and a national organization that they know are here to help them in their goal of clean water. The PWNA will soon have educational training and certification to help every power washing contractor have the knowledge and confidence to visit their local POTW and MS4s to educate them on how we are here to make their jobs easier. The power washing industry is here to help keep our waters clean for generations to come.
It is important every power wash contractor be involved in educating their local community on the necessity of power washing to keep our nations waters clean.
Much of the information and content of this article came from EPAs “Coming Together for Clean Water” available online at https://blog.epa.gov/waterforum/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/ComingTogether-for-Clean-Water-FINAL.pdf