Laboratory Water as Regulated Waste
Each time we pour water into a sink or drain in a laboratory we are generating a regulated industrial discharge according to the rules of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). MWRA is a public authority which was established to provide water and sewer services to greater Boston. MWRA provides us our fresh drinking water and also is tasked with managing the sewer and drain effluents we produce.
MWRA has the authority to set and enforce limits regarding what materials can and cannot be discharged to sewer system. In the case of laboratory operations, the limits are established via a permitting process, and enforcement is accomplished through routine sampling.
Each building facility at Boston University and Boston Medical Center which houses laboratory operations has a dedicated laboratory plumbing system. All the sinks and drains from laboratory spaces empty to large pretreatment tanks in basement areas. These tanks are used to adjust the pH of the effluent so that it meets MWRA criteria before it hits the sewer, to monitor pH and flow rates continuously, and as a source of waste water sampling.
In permits for Boston University and Boston Medical Center, MWRA establishes prohibitions and sampling schedules. When laboratory operations result in the discharge of prohibited chemicals, the violations are identified via analysis of samples from the pretreatment tanks. MWRA then takes enforcement actions which include severe monetary penalties and even the shutting down of a discharge location.