Not long ago, I was discussing the topic of vehicle fleet washing with an environmental specialist working with a municipal water treatment facility. You see, the affluent that comes from vehicle washing is not that benign. For instance it’s often filled with grease, oil, petroleum distillates, asbestos from brakes, heavy metals, acids, and whatever soaps and detergents are used – not exactly what you want in the local environment. Now then, how does a company that cleans lots of vehicles, either on contract, or their own fleet suppose to deal with this?
Well, they need a clarifier in the yard and they need to pre-treat the water, then send the affluent that is acceptable to the water treatment facilities specification into the sewer system. But, what if they are cleaning in a remote are or there are no such pre-treating facilities on the property? Okay so, let’s discuss thing and I thought I might also point you to some of the close-loop systems we’ve used. I am retired from a Truck and Bus Washing company.
Here are some thoughts on what the military does to maintain the environment but also clean their vehicles; in Kuwait they had to clean all the vehicles coming back for noxious organic matter, (something similar that is similar to what our forest fire crews must do as the vehicles get back onto the roads due to the bark beetle, noxious weeds, tree fungus, and other issues).
Also in Kuwait they had limited water supply, it’s more valuable than oil due to the desalination costs and supply issues – therefore they used a water truck with these types of devices to clean the water and put it back into the system. There were evaporation issues, as the concrete was 130-degrees but, for the most part it worked well. I worked with a military contractor in Alabama to find them a solution, I believe they went with Karcher Unit for pressure washers, a reclaim-recovery system, and recycling, which worked for them.
Now then, what happens if things are not done correctly? Well, it has also occurred to me that the perchlorates in the water in Barstow Ca recently could have come from the cleaning of vehicles out at the logistical base near by perhaps by a contractor who didn’t consider how easy it is to have that affluent flow into the ground water. Many of these contractors hire labor that is fairly dismal, and I can easily see an unsupervised crew doing something very environmentally wrong.
The event whether it was due to a cleaning contractor or leaky fuel tanks on the property has not determined yet, could be either, both or neither. Still that was a total fiasco event there, and this is why it’s so important, things like this can happen. The wash-water affluent thus needs to be treated when cleaning fleets, especially grease and oil, or steam cleaning (hot-water pressure washing). I assure you the threats are real, I am sure you agree.
There are a couple devices I can recommend on the closed-loop concept – one The Landa Water Maze and although it is a rather large system and expensive $20,000 – $30,000 it certainly does the trick, but perhaps too costly for a mobile operator truck and bus cleaning contractor. Karcher also has a popular system out there, but perhaps not fit for mobile usage due to all its electronics which might have issues with the shock and bouncing. Indeed, there are many companies with decent competing systems which may be less expensive, but none are completely fool proof for mobile use (watch out for Murphy break-downs) even if all of them are fine for fixed usage.
As for closed loop systems, here is one that I recommend: The Water Maze by Landa, as it is not to difficult to create a close-looped system obviously. For example block off storm drain, vacuum water into a reclaim tank, separate out the solids (gravity) and treat the water with several filters, the final one being wisegolfers perhaps an RO or De-I and then reuse. The Water Maze does that.
And I can also recommend the VEW System, and there are many additional suppliers, some specializing in industry cleaning, marine industry, trucking, buses, public transportation, etc. There are lots of decent solutions out there for various uses and needs. It’s really not a one-size fits all.
Now then, for strict mobile operators, those small businesses which run around and clean cars; Mobile Auto Detailers and Mobile Car Washes, simplicity is paramount, so too is cost right? Sure it is, and it makes sense to use storm drain blockers and a vacuum system to suck up the water, then take it away in a spare tank to a location to treat it and re-use it.
Still one should consider that if a mobile auto detailer only uses 2-4 gallons per car, there is very little affluent to collect, unless it is a foggy day and the car or SUV is really dirty – or perhaps a commercial vehicle or truck, other wise the water just evaporates quickly. Of course, if someone is doing a car washing fundraiser then that water should flow into shrubbery or landscaping.
If lots of washing is going on in one location, over time this can pollute the local soil, above what it can recover from and in a wet region with low-ground water levels, it makes sense not to take risks, thus, in this case then it needs to be removed and put into a clarifier, or taken to the POTW, or treated for re-use, especially in drought ridden areas.