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Water Resources Management

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), Bureau of Wastewater Treatment, manages a comprehensive program to improve water quality in the New York City area.   A primary focus of the program is achieving optimal operation of City’s wastewater infrastructure, which consists of 14 wastewater treatment plants and more than 6,000 miles of sewers.  Wastewater treatment plants, also called sewage treatment or water pollution control plants, are the last line of defense for removing pollutants from wastewater before it is discharged into our local waterways.  NYC’s pollution control plants treat about 1.4 billion gallons of wastewater from homes, businesses, schools, and streets in the five boroughs every day.  

NYCDEP offers several tips for how each of us can make a difference in improving the quality of NYC’s waterways.  The New York State Department of Environmental Protection (NYSDEC) is also leading a campaign to protect our waterways from the contamination by unwanted pharmaceutical and personal care products.  The “Don’t Flush Your Drugs” campaign is being cited as a critical component in protecting our water resources, both drinking and surface waters, and is an appeal to all New Yorkers to play their part in its success.

When working at Columbia, you can also contribute to local and state water quality by ensuring that your activities do not release any potentially harmful contaminants to the wastewater.  This can be accomplished by strictly adhering to the University’s Policy on Drain Disposal of Chemicals.  NYCDEP also requires that chemical users provide adequate protection against chemical release (e.g., secondary containment) in areas where it could reasonably be anticipated that accidental spillage/leakage could result in chemicals entering into the wastewater (e.g., chemical use/storage in fume hoods with cup sinks, on floor  or bench tops near sinks or drains).  EH&S encourages all chemical users to periodically evaluate their chemical use and storage practices to identify potential pathways of chemical releases and to address them by using secondary containment bins or by relocating use or storage activities.  You can contact your EH&S Laboratory Safety Officer for assistance in evaluating your chemical use and storage practices. To read more….

If you currently operate or are planning to operate photo processing equipment utilizing wet chemistry methods (i.e., fixer and developer), this equipment must be outfitted with a silver recovery system.  Silver recovery systems help filter harmful contaminants from the photo processing process before entering the wastewater.  Silver recovery systems are required to be installed by NYCDEP regulation and are provided and maintained by EH&S at no cost to the user.

For many years EH&S and Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (CODM) have been partnering to recycle scrap dental amalgam.  This best management practice has been a primary focus of NYSDEC in recent years for preventing contamination of landfills from mercury-containing dental amalgam.  Additional evidence suggested that wastewater discharges from dental practices throughout the state were contributing to mercury contamination at pollution control plants and subsequently in our waterways.  To address this concern, NYSDEC now requires dental practices, including CODM, to install amalgam separator equipment to remove at least 99% of mercury from dental wastewater discharges.  Columbia complies with NYSDEC’s regulations for installing and managing amalgam separators at all of its dental practices. 
Finally, to help protect the NYCDEP’s wastewater infrastructure, each of the University’s laboratory buildings is connected to a wastewater neutralization system, which is designed to make slight adjustments to the pH of the wastewater before it is introduced into the City’s sewer system.  These systems help to protect the physical integrity of the City’s sewers from corrosion and are NOT designed to treat chemical waste. Hazardous chemicals must never be poured into a sink or released down a drain even if a neutralization tank is visible directly under the sink in your laboratory.  All chemical wastes must be managed through the University’s Hazardous Waste Management Program, so they can be properly and safely handled, treated and disposed of at a permitted disposal facility and not impact the quality of our waters.