Practical Applications, Inc. Treats Cyanide Interference at the Broad Institute

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Boston-based wastewater experts solve tricky cyanide interference at state of the art research institute

Sampling at one of our site locations

When MIT's Broad Institute came to Practical Applications, Inc. last year after sampling analysis revealed cyanide exceeding the discharge permit level, Practical Applications began working on getting Broad's wastewater effluent within compliance regulations. In its 25 years of business, PAI has tackled many similar challenges in the industry. Yet this scenario posed a particularly unique challenge; while large quantities of cyanide were being detected in the effluent, the chemical was not used in any of Broad's processes. There was no apparent reason for why cyanide would be showing up in the lab results. Finding a solution to get Broad in compliance would require a complex investigation into the source of the baffling results. “The cyanide level at Broad posed a unique challenge,” Bryn Warren,Lead Urban Environmental Scientist at PAI comments. “But we knew we were up to it.”

To the frustration of many industrial wastewater facilities, cyanide detection above regulated discharge levels is an all too common occurrence. As Howard S. Weinberg cites in “Insights to False Positive Total Cyanide Measurements in Wastewater Plant Effluents,” many industries and treatment plants experience permit violations for elevated cyanide levels. Cyanide is, in fact, notorious for creating false positives when oxidizing agents interfere with the conditions required for testing. Cyanide also frequently generates from common processes such as chlorination and dechlorination.Therefore when cyanide is detected, it is necessary for industries to determine the actual concentration, whether it was formed during treatment, and the appropriate treatment method to effectively set levels within regulation.

After being approached by Broad, Practical Applications began a multi-step process to identify and quickly treat the interference. First, PAI confirmed that diagnostic sampling revealed consistent cyanide hits over the discharge permit level. The consistency of results warranted painstaking test method investigation and interference research. PAI began to thoroughly explore all possible sources of the interference, including the possibility that the cyanide originated from contaminated ground water being transferred into the wastewater system. A search into Broad's location, Ames Street, revealed it was once the site of a metal fitting manufacturer in the 1900s, a viable source of contamination. However, PAI's research ultimately concluded that groundwater was not being transferred into the system.

Left with many other potential explanations for the source of the cyanide, Practical Applications considered the possibility of the source being a cyanate by-product from a contaminant within the tank walls, pipe sealant, or treatment sealant. Following a series of thorough treatability studies and even more diagnostic sampling, Practical Applications concluded that cyanide was most likely generated from chemical interactions in the effluent. Preservatives in the effluent would interact with triglycerides, creating high levels of cyanide. Treating the effluent with the proper amount of hydrogen peroxide proved a successful means of oxidizing, or breaking down, the interference. As a result, the cyanide levels dropped significantly below the discharge permit limit, leaving Broad's effluent well within regulation.

Contributing to the successful identification and treatment of Broad's effluent was Broad's willingness to allow Practical Applications to thoroughly research, sample, and continue to test the effluent in order to deliver their solution. “Broad was very accommodating and willing to help us in any way possible as we worked on the job,” Warren says, attesting to the trust and confidence Broad showed in PAI's ability to get the job done.

If your wastewater discharge is currently exceeding discharge permit levels, call Practical Applications, Inc. today at 617-423-5639 for a free consultation.

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Laura Fiorelli
Practical Applications, Inc.
+1 (617) 936-8484
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