Australia's population increased 6% between the 2001 and
2006 Census, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This
growth carries numerous implications, some readily apparent and
much talked about – such as traffic congestion
– and others, equally important, though less visible to
the general public.
As populations increase, cities and towns must accommodate the
growth with additional residential development, which often leads
to construction adjacent to rural and industrial areas on city
outskirts. Urban encroachment upon these "remote"
locations, which often include wastewater treatment facilities,
poses possible consequences for both sides: potentially odorous
emissions impacting the new residents and, on the other hand,
potential litigation and costly upgrades for the facility
Admittedly, residents do not want to wake up, throw open their
windows on a warm summer's day and smell offensive odours; but
common sense might seem that appropriate land use planning could
enable smart development of land areas around existing plants that
have been in place for dozens of years, if not decades.
Surprisingly, that is not always the case.
In New South Wales, Section 129 of the Protection of the
Environment Operations Act 1997 makes it an offence for
offensive odours to be emitted from premises. While there is
guidance available for determining the need for odour emission
control at facilities, once the new residences are in place, there
is no allowance for who settled first and residents have the right
to request clean and odour-free air at the expense of the plant
operators. This means that developers of new residential areas can
buy less expensive land close to a facility and then insist that
facility operators comply with odour impact limits. As Sydney, for
example, continues to stretch beyond its existing north-western and
south-western boundaries, this will become a more pressing issue
for wastewater utilities and other odour emitting facilities in
these types of areas. Similarly, this is an issue for other growing
cities as well.
Industry, public utilities, their consultants and advisers deal
with these issues every day. Sometimes the solution involves
negotiation with regulators and developers. Sometimes the solution
requires employing cost-effective odour control measures within the
sewage transport and treatment processes. And other times, the
solution involves employing odour capture and control systems.
Often, it is a combination of all three options.
For a recent project in New South Wales, MWH used dosing of the
incoming sewage to reduce the odour load released at the treatment
plant, combined with a biofilter odour control system to capture
and remove residual odours before discharging the treated air into
the atmosphere. For this location, neighbours were located close to
and overlooking the facility, yet, as one recent visitor to the
facility said, "you can't smell the treatment plant at
Not all situations are suitable for biofilters, however, and
other technologies such as chemical scrubbers need to be used. MWH
has developed and implemented a new chemical scrubbing process that
reduces chemical consumption, energy consumption and greenhouse gas
emissions while delivering guaranteed odour emission levels.
Where odour control measures need to be implemented to minimise
the impacts on new neighbours, whole-of-life costs are critical for
the odour control measures. While "costs" used to just be
about dollars, the community now expects public utilities to look
at "climate change" and "greenhouse gas" costs
as well. By incorporating these factors in the life cycle
assessment, benefits for the facility owner, the local residents
and the broader community can be achieved.
Innovative thinking and clever design can result in affordable
and successful odour treatment and containment solutions, creating
a win-win situation for plant owners and their neighbours.
Jeff Mann is the Industrial Air Quality and Pollution
Control Knowledge Leader for MWH, a a global provider of
environmental engineering, construction and strategic consulting
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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