Rural America is home to different industries. These industries may have an impact on the environment and on local health. When looking at the environmental and health implications of natural gas development, it is important to take into account the implications that other industries or facilities may have. It is also important to note that when assessing human health implications one should remember that natural gas development is a temporal and spatial activity while a brewery is permanent.
Water Usage: Breweries are huge consumers of water. The water is used for brewing processes, cooling, washing and also for rinsing purposes. Generally speaking, all the water that doesn’t end up being beer ends up as industrial wastewater. Breweries generally have co-mingled wastewater which would include spent water from the brewery related activities and wastewater from “domestic” sources (kitchens, toilets, sinks etc.). Larger breweries send their spent water to local or onsite water treatment facilities and smaller breweries sometimes use leach fields or land farms to manage their wastes. The Brewery Ommegang in Otsego County utilizes a leach field.
Wastewater Constituents: Brewery wastewaters usually contain sugars, starches, fatty acids, ethanol, waste yeast and some chemical cleaners. What is of most concern for wastewater treatment in a brewery’s wastewater is the Total Suspended Solids (TSS). This portion of the waste includes the grain particles, dirt, coagulated proteins and other solids that are washed down the drain during the brewing processes. High TSS means the microbes in the receiving water and/or soil have food, but as they consume the TSS, they deplete the oxygen supply (also known as the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)). Low oxygen in water is not good for aquatic organisms.
Hazard Chemicals: Hazard chemicals are used in the breweries. These chemicals are used for cleaning and disinfecting. To better understand the chemicals, a quick search of the internet netted this company that sells products that breweries use on a regular basis. Some of these products include proprietary cleaning solutions. These chemicals do not require a permit for use but are handled under OSHA’s standards. However, they occur in small enough concentrations in the spent water and as a result the wastewater is not regulated as hazardous.
Wastewater Treatment: Leach fields or land farms are an effective method of disposing low volumes of wastewater but as a brewery grows, they are required to install some sort of wastewater treatment facilities and obtain a permit from the NYSDEC to discharge water to a local water body or pipe their spent water to a wastewater treatment facility that accepts industrial wastewater. The installation or building of a wastewater plant would mean construction traffic which would potentially have a temporary impact on air and water quality. All the construction activity would require various permits from different agencies.
Wastewater to Leach Fields; Aquifer Implications: Wastewater from a typical brewery is high in organic compounds. The wastewater also ranges in pH from either being highly acidic or alkaline and could also be released at a higher temperatures then the receiving water or field. These characteristics can contribute to a change in the nature of the soil, and underlying aquifer; releasing normally bound metals into shallow drinking water aquifers. The growing of special crops on the land farm can help speed up the chemical processes required to transform the wastewater constituents into smaller and manageable constituents which can protect local aquifers.
Air Quality: Larger breweries have constant truck traffic which could have air quality implications to local residents. Small breweries have the same impact but to a lesser extent. As the brewery grows, there would be odors related to the brewery.
During fermentation of beer, carbon dioxide and ethanol are released into the air. Carbon dioxide emissions are of concern as carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas.”
Other pollutants associated with a brewery include particulate matters, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide. The VOC emissions are also tied to the land application of brewery wastewaters. The combination of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are known to lead to the development of ground level ozone. Breweries are usually listed as industries of concern when it comes to VOC emissions and ozone formation.
Health Implications: This discussion is limited to the health implications of the brewing process. The discussion about the health implications of the finished product are outside this inform-let.
Depending on the type of metals mobilized in the leach field, the frequency of their release, and the length of time a person drinks water from the aquifer, potential health effects can vary widely. People who draw water from close by aquifers with shallow drinking water wells (less than 100 feet) would be considered potentially exposed to the changes in water quality. Brewery wastewater also has high levels of organic materials which have the potential to contribute to increased levels of pathogenic microorganisms to surface waters. People who swim in or use the surface water for irrigation could be potentially exposed to the pathogens.
The VOC emissions from the brewery during the processes (brewing) and after (land farming) can contribute to the formation of ozone. Ozone can trigger health problems especially in susceptible populations (children and the elderly. The added traffic in the summer months in the region combined with the VOC emissions from the brewery could potentially play a significant role in local ozone formation.
The brewing process has the potential to have an environmental and human health impact, however, NYSDEC regulations and permit conditions are designed to protect local residents and to also protect the environment.
6/6/2011 *Edited to add authors name and bio*
Ms. Blake has prepared NPDES permit applications, permit renewals and permit modifications for different types of industries. The process includes understanding effluent characteristics and the potential impact of the effluent on human health and the environment.
6/6/2011 *Edited to add authors name and bio*