Research Profiles Processing Plant Wastewater Discharges

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Recently completed research funded by the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association profiled processing plant wastewater discharges. The study is part of the association’s extensive industry research program encompassing all segments of broiler, turkey, and commercial egg operations. More than $3 million is currently invested in ongoing research.

A brief overview of the completed research is shown below. Additional information may be obtained from the authors on the date and place of publication of the data generated by this research project.

Project #558

Profile and Production Process Determination of Phosphorus and Nitrogen Wastewater

Discharges from Poultry Processing Plants

William C. Merka, Ph.D.

Poultry Science Department / A. Estes Reynolds, Ph.D. Food Science and Technology Department /
Jackie Sellers, Ph.D. / Brian Kiepper - Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department - The University of Georgia - Athens, GA 30602

Profiling Processing Plant Wastewater Discharges

The discharge of excessive nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural and industrial sources into U.S. waters is a major environmental concern (Tusseau-Vuillemin, 2001; Sharpley, 2000; Gaskin and Harris, 1999). As a result, the poultry industry in the United States has become a leader in the fight to control the discharge of excess nutrients into ground and surface waters by implementing proactive management practices in both its production and processing sectors.

To meet established environmental regulations, the poultry industry has been extremely thorough in the tracking of nitrogen and phosphorus discharges in final wastewater effluents from processing plants (Carawan, 1989; Westerman et. al., 1989). To increase the processing industry’s ability to control nutrient discharges under increasingly restrictive limits, research is needed to identify the work shifts and processing steps that contribute the highest percentage of nutrient loading to wastewater streams.

The major objective of this research project was to establish the specific times and processing operations that contribute the highest loading of nitrogen and phosphorus to wastewater streams, thus identifying target areas for reducing future discharges. In addition, the project had the objective of identifying similar trends of nutrient discharges for facilities with analogous operations.

To accomplish these objectives, the research team collected 24-hour representative samples of process wastewater from three different processing locations and from the effluent of wastewater treatment screens at six poultry processing facilities. Sampling was conducted for a minimum period of three consecutive days at each plant.

Three slaughter plants and three further processing plants were selected for the project. Additional operations at one or more of the slaughter plants include cut-up, deboning, and marination. The three further processing plants were all unique in their operations: one ‘cook’ plant, one portion control/par-fry plant, and one marination/grinding/extrusion plant were profiled.

Each plant had four specific sampling sites where 24 hourly discrete samples were collected daily and then pooled based on individual plant production and sanitation shift schedules. Each representative sample was then analyzed for Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) and Phosphorus (P). By combining the resulting concentration data with observed, recorded, and estimate wastewater flows, a pounds of nutrient loading value for each sample was calculated and graphed based on work shifts.

Project results show that nutrient discharges in the screened wastewater of the three slaughter plants follow consistent trends and that accurate models can be developed to predict nitrogen and phosphorus discharge rates with a minimum of input data. Results also show that periodic calculation of nutrients discharges can be an efficient tool for monitoring in a waste minimization program. In addition, we found that effective dry clean-up measures in live haul areas could reduce nutrient loading to the wastewater streams of slaughter plants by 5-10 percent. Further processing plant nutrient discharge findings show that individual pieces of equipment and specific plant operations can be effectively isolated to focus nutrient discharge reduction efforts.

Finally, project findings highlight the importance of calculating accurate loading of nutrients to waste streams to determine areas of highest impact. Reliance on concentration data alone can mislead and impede efforts in making effective nutrient discharge reductions.

Overall, the project underscores the benefits of accurate nutrient discharge monitoring in establishing proactive programs geared at meeting current and future environmental benchmarks in the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from poultry processing plants.
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