By Caitlin Otmanowski
The Gerald R. Ford International Airport is in the process of determining a way to control stormwater runoff before it leaves airport property. The runoff water contains propylene glycol, the chemical used by airline and airport maintenance crews to de-ice airplanes that is currently directed into a tributary of the Thornapple River.
As part of the airport’s NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit process, airport staff conducted an analysis of alternative management methods, and came up with this solution:
- Continue current de-icing practices, which include the collection of de-icing fluids and recycling when possible.
- The fluid that is collected will be sent to an off-site recycling facility.
- Stormwater drains will be modified to divert runoff from the airport directly into the Thornapple River, rather than one of its small tributaries, in order to minimize occurrence of nuisance biofilms. This means that the fluid that is not collected will be sent directly to the Thornapple River.
This is the low-cost alternative that puts saving money above protecting water quality and aquatic life. Studies have linked propylene glycol, as well as formulated anti- and de-icing solutions, to toxic effects on both aquatic plants and animals.
The Dow Chemical Company, a manufacturer of propylene glycol, recommends that “runoff from de-icing operations be contained and diverted to either a wastewater treatment system or a glycol reclamation system”. At the very least, releasing untreated de-icing solutions containing propylene glycol should be avoided in order to minimize environmental damage.
WMEAC supports an alternative management practice, a proposed “natural treatment system” that would reduce amounts of pollutants entering the river. This could include wet retention ponds, an anaerobic fluidized bed reactor, or other bioreactor treatment systems.
Learn more about this issue at the GFIA website.