Revision Date: 1/04
Process Code: Navy/Marines: SER-016-99; Air Force: FA09; Army: N/A
Usage List: Navy: High; Marines: High; Army: High; Air Force: High
Alternative For: Conventional industrial wastewater treatment plant
Compliance Impact: High
Applicable EPCRA Targeted Constituents and CAS Numbers: Cadmium (CAS: 7440-43-9), Chromium (CAS: 7440-47-3), Silver (CAS: 7440-22-4), and Cyanide (CAS: 57-12-5)

Overview: In the spring of 1989, Beale Air Force Base (AFB), California, was issued a Cease and Desist Order from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB) to halt all operations involving the discharge of photographic chemical waste and wash waters into its photographic waste treatment facility. At that time, up to 88,000 gallons of highly contaminated photographic waste and wastewater was being routed to the base treatment facility daily. To maintain the photo processing capability and comply with the CRWQCB requirements, a one of a kind, True Zero-Discharge Pollution Control System was designed that resulted in a total discontinuance of drainage to the base waste treatment facility. The drains from the building were cemented shut. The intent was to remove the Cease and Desist Order as well as satisfy applicable CRWQCB and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.

As part of the initial design steps for the True Zero-Discharge Pollution Control System, Beale AFB sought to reduce its current high volume of wash water being used during photo processing. The reduction was accomplished by utilizing a previously designed water conservation system (WCS), which was applied to all film processing units. This WCS system reduced the wash water flow volume per processing machine from 1,200 gallons per hour to 15 gallons per hour with no adverse affects on the film process. The result was a total hazardous chemical waste discharge from the lab of less than 2,000 gallons per day.

The pollution control system that was designed for the Beale AFB photo lab consisted of vacuum evaporators, which separate the water from the chemical waste. Within the vacuum evaporators, the chemical becomes a pumpable sludge concentrate representing approximately 3% of the total original solution, and the distillate (water) discharged from the evaporators represents approximately 97% of the original solution. In the second step of the process, the distillate is further refined through polishing. The water is processed through reverse osmosis units, which remove organic and inorganic chemicals, and a deionization system that completes the polishing process. The polished water, which is ultra pure water, is recycled back into the lab for chemical mixing and film wash water. In addition, pH control, carbon and particulate filtration, ozonation and nitrogen infusion, and electrolytic silver recovery are incorporated within the system.

The Beale AFB pollution control system reduced the 88,000 gallon per day hazardous waste stream from the photographic lab to the base photographic waste treatment facility to approximately 22 gallons per day of concentrated waste sludge, which is collected and recycled by the Defense Reutilization and Management Service (DRMS). The lab has used the recycled water continuously for more than 10 years. The California EPA has since then rescinded the Cease and Desist Order and classified the lab as a recycling process exempt from permitting. A benchmark now has been established for the advancements and continuing improvements that the squadron is making with its photographic chemical waste pollution control system. This system can easily be applied to any facility where water-based chemistry is used.

According to the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center, the Beale AFB Zero Discharge System is a very large system and would best be suited for plating shops with large volumes of effluent wastewater. The vacuum distillation units delivered to NAS Oceana for their Imaging Center field testing were much smaller and off-the shelf. The three units were a Brittel, a Noritsu and a Calfran. Two of the units had a 50 gallons/day photo wastewater effluent capacity and the other 12 gallons/day. Oceana personnel were very pleased with their performance. NAS Oceana Imaging Center supports about 600 commands according to the P2 manager, and is the largest in the Navy. Their focus now is to convert to digital as best and as fast as they can. Nevertheless, their current chemical photographic processing load is not large enough to sustain one 50 gallon-per-day unit on a daily basis.

Compliance Benefit: The True Zero-Discharge Pollution Control System allows the treatment facility to eliminate the need for permitting under the Clean Water Act (40 CFR 122). In addition, the facility will drastically reduce its need for new industrial water since water is recycled within the facility. The reuse of water will help meet the requirements in Executive Order 13123 that call for federal facilities to implement water conservation projects.

The system will also reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated, thereby helping facilities meet the requirements of waste reduction under RCRA (40 CFR 262) and EO 13148. The reduction of hazardous waste may also help facilities reduce their generator status and lessen the amount of regulations (i.e., recordkeeping, reporting, inspections, transportation, accumulation time, emergency prevention and preparedness, emergency response) they are required to comply with under RCRA (40 CFR 262).

The compliance benefits listed here are only meant to be used as general guidelines and are not meant to be strictly interpreted. Actual compliance benefits will vary depending on the factors involved, e.g., the amount of workload involved.

Materials Compatibility:

No materials compatibility issues were encountered.

Safety and Health: Consult your local industrial health specialist, your local health and safety personnel, and the appropriate material safety data sheet (MSDS) prior to implementing this technology.

  • Recovers 100% of metals for recycling.
  • Recovers 97% of water for reuse.
  • Eliminates or reduces the generation of hazardous sludge at publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).
  • Eliminates waste and waste water discharges to domestic sewer plants or POTWs.
  • Provides a reduction of 99% in water usage.
  • Allows for the possibility of a total reduction of waste products for complete zero discharge and sludge recovery.

Disadvantages: None identified.

Economic Analysis: Houston Fearless 76, Inc. has completed five years of evaluation and testing of Beale AFB Zero Discharge System. The capital cost associated with the project design and construction totaled approximately $1.5 million, which includes extensive research and development (R&D). The installation of a similar system would be $600,000 to $800,000 dollars without the extensive R&D. The three units installed at NAS Oceana now are in the $5K to $10K range.


Water Usage

  • The old method of processing used 87,000 gallons of potable water a day or 15,840,000 gallons per year. At a cost of $1.65 per 1000 gallons or $26,136 dollars per year.
  • The Zero Discharge System uses 2,000 gallons per year of make-up water at a cost of $1.65 per 1000 gallons or a cost of $3.30 a year.
  • For Beale AFB, the Zero Discharge system results in annual savings of $26,132.70 in water usage.

Cost of Traditional Wastewater Treatment

  • Cost of the conventional wastewater treatment = $50 per 1000 gallons
  • Cost of the conventional treatment of chrome bearing waste = $950 per 1000 gallons
  • Cost of the conventional treatment of silver bearing waste = $100 per 1000 gallons
  • The old method processed 1.5 million gallons per year of waste containing silver, cadmium, and chrome. Since the Beale AFB wastewater treatment plant was incapable of treating the waste to comply with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirement, no cost comparison can be made.

Cost of Hazardous Waste (HW) Disposal

  • Conventional HW Disposal Cost = $1,000,000
  • New method of treating waste processed = 250,000 gallons per year
  • Waste sludge disposal = 7,5000 gallons
  • Total cost of treatment = $42,500
  • Cost of zero discharge waste and waste water treatment = $170 per 1000 gallons

Table 1. Annual Operating Cost Comparison for Beale AFB Zero Discharge System


Conventional IWTP

Zero Discharge

Potable Make-up Water:



Wastewater Treatment:



HW Disposal:



Total Costs:



Economic Analysis Summary:

  • Annual Savings for Zero-Discharge IWTP: $983,632.70
  • Capital Cost for Equipment/Process: $1,500,000
  • Payback Period for Investment in Equipment/Process: 1.5 years

Houston Fearless 76, Inc., holds patents on the pollution control system described above as well as a patent on a series of vacuum evaporators utilized within the application.

Click Here to view an Active Spreadsheet for this Economic Analysis and Enter Your Own Values. To return from the Active Spreadsheet, click the Back arrow on the Tool Bar.

NSN/MSDS: None identified.

Approving Authority: Appropriate authority for making process changes should always be sought and obtained prior to procuring or implementing any of the technology identified herein.

Points of Contact: For more information

Vendors: This is not meant to be a complete list, as there may be other manufacturers of this type of equipment.

Houston Fearless 76, Inc.
203 W Artestia Blvd.
Compton CA, 90222;
Project Office
P.O. Drawer 390
Marysville,  CA   95901-0390
Phone: (800) 421-5000 x154
FAX: (310) 605-0692
Contact: Mr.Michael Freiberg, Director of Sales, PCS

Related Links: None.

Sources: Mr. Michael Freiberg, Houston Fearless, December 2002.

Supplemental: Picture of Zero Discharge Industrial Wastewater Treatment System

Picture of Zero Discharge Industrial Wastewater Treatment System