Software Tool Helps Companies Prevent Pollution
Web-based system helps in developing storm water pollution prevention plans
Although storm water runoff may not seem particularly threatening, it ranks among the most common sources of water pollution in the United States. Especially at industrial sites, rain and melting snow can pick up a variety of pollutants - ranging from processing chemicals to cleaning solvents - and sweep them into nearby creeks, lakes and rivers.
Federal regulation calls for companies engaged in certain industrial activities to obtain a storm water permit and implement a pollution prevention program. Although an important endeavor, this can also be an onerous task, especially for small and mid-sized companies with fewer resources.
To ease compliance headaches, Georgia Tech's Energy and Environmental Management Center (EEMC) has developed storm water pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) software that streamlines the planning process - reducing time and effort by as much as 80 percent.
Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water, this Web-based tool initially helps companies determine whether or not they even need a storm water permit. "If you don't have any pollutants exposed to storm water, you are exempt, but most manufacturers fall into one of the 11 categories that require a permit," says Ginny Key, an instructional designer at EEMC.
Available at either www.gatechstormwater.com or www.gatechenvironment.com, the SWPPP software walks companies through a series of questions about their facilities, such as whether they have outdoor fueling stations or loading docks. Then the tool guides companies through:
Assembling a pollution prevention team.
Identifying potential pollutants.
Selecting appropriate best management practices (BMPs) to control pollutants.
Recordkeeping and reporting.
Implementing and updating the plan.
Plans will vary tremendously depending on a company's internal expertise, the contour of its property, potential pollutants and nearby receiving waters.
Some pollution-prevention remedies may require structural modifications, such as installing mechanisms to equipment to prevent fuel spills. Yet many best practices are a simple matter of good housekeeping, point out Ed Hardison and Jim Walsh, EEMC project engineers who helped develop the SWPPP tool.
For example, wooden pallets used to store equipment or containers may have collected grease or hazardous materials. Preventing pollution in storm water runoff can be easily handled by covering the pallets or taking them inside. Another low-tech remedy: making sure that outside storage drums are covered and not corroded.
When the SWPPP tool presents a best practice, it includes various business factors, such as implementation and maintenance costs, level of difficulty and expertise required. The SWPPP tool also provides contact information about each state's permitting authority and if there are additional state requirements that must be met.
At the end of the program, the SWPPP tool produces a customized plan in a rich-text-format document that can be easily converted to any word-processing system. The program also saves all information and features a revision log, which enables companies to go back to the Web site and modify their plans as they make changes. For example, if they introduce new materials, those considered potential pollutants must be tracked.
One of EEMC's greatest challenges was incorporating complex government regulations into a user-friendly tool. "We wanted to make the process as easy as possible without watering down the information too much," explains Greg Rupert, a Web designer and software specialist at EEMC. "I think people will be surprised at how effortless the process is compared to the sophistication of their final plans."
User-friendliness is critical not only in creating a pollution prevention plan, but also implementing it. "If a regulator visits your facility and finds that you're not in compliance, you can be fined," Walsh says. "These fines typically range from $10,000 to $20,000, which may not sound monstrous, but can really hurt smaller companies."
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Writer: T.J. Becker