When the smoke disappears: dealing with extinguishing chemicals in firefighting wastewater

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Water is not enough. Nowadays, numerous chemicals are used for fire extinction. After use, however, these may unintentionally enter sewerage systems. In order to safely treat firefighting wastewater (FFWW), knowledge of the potential effects of these chemicals on biological treatment processes is essential. This study characterized and mimicked the composition of FFWW containing two powders, three foams and one foam degrader. Nitrogen (162–370 mg NH4+-N L−1) and phosphorus (173–320 mg PO43−-P L−1) concentrations exceeded discharge limits, whereas chemical and biological oxygen demand, suspended solids and detergent concentrations remained sufficiently low. Adequate nutrient removal could be obtained through FeCl3 addition and nitrification/denitrification with acetate as substrate. In batch tests, residual nitrifying activities of 84, 81, 89, 95 and 93% were observed in the presence of powders, foams, foam degrader, synthetic and real FFWW, respectively. All categories showed higher denitrification rates than the control. Although the powders at first seemed to inhibit anammox activity at 82%, after pH correction anammox was fully feasible, allowing nitrogen removal through oxygen-limited nitrification/denitrification (OLAND). Detailed cost calculations indicated that OLAND could save 11% of capital and 68% of operational costs compared to nitrification/denitrification, identifying OLAND as the most recommendable process for nitrogen removal from firefighting wastewaters.

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