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Pollution Prevention - Food Facilities

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Throughout Sonoma County, storm drains flow directly to local creeks, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the Russian River, and the ocean, with no treatment. Storm water pollution is a serious problem for wildlife dependent on our waterways and for people who live near polluted streams.

Food handling facilities such as restaurants, institutional cafeterias, grocery stores, bakeries and delis can contribute to storm water pollution, mainly through improper waste handling and cleanup practices that allow food particles, oil and grease, and cleaning products to flow to a street, gutter or storm drain. Nothing but rain water should go into storm drains.

Polluting storm drains causes damage to the environment and liability for the discharger.

A storm drain violation is a misdemeanor. Violators may also be subject to civil action, be charged for clean up costs, and have their names published in the newspaper. Civil liability is up to $10,000 per day of violation, plus additional penalties for discharges of 1,000 gallons. These guidelines will show how you may be inadvertently breaking the law and simple changes you need to make.

Types of Pollution Food Handling Facilities Generate

All substances left in a street, gutter, parking lot, alley, or dumped into a storm drain end up in local creeks, rivers and the ocean, with no treatment.

In addition to drawing flies, vermin, and causing odor and public health problems, decaying organic materials use up dissolved oxygen in stream, rivers and the ocean, stressing or killing aquatic life.

Oil and grease cause additional health problems, and also plug sanitary sewer lines, causing backups and severe risks to human health.

Food handling facilities sometimes discharge toxic materials, including cleaning products, disinfectants and pesticides. Even biodegradable soaps contain ingredients which are initially toxic to aquatic life.

If you are not certain whether a drain leads to the storm drain or sanitary sewer, call your local utilities or public works department so they can help you resolve the question. In general, drains inside buildings are connected to the sanitary sewer and outside drains (except for capped sanitary sewer cleanouts) are connected to the storm drain system. Sanitary sewer cleanouts are usually 4" in diameter, while storm drain inlets are usually larger.

Water Quality Protection Procedures

Use qualified firms when cleaning dumpster areas, loading docks and other paved surfaces or do not use degreasers, bleach or disinfectants in an area where rinse water could flow to a street, gutter, storm drain or creek. Even products labeled “biodegradable” or if “environmentally safe” cannot be used.

If flows could enter a storm drain, block flow with sand bags, rags, absorbents or a pile of dirt.

Dry sweep next and dispose of debris as solid waste.

If wet cleaning (including high temperature or high pressure washing) is required, the following three-step process is used:

Clean up as much as possible with rags.

Use absorbents (cat litter, sand, etc.) to collect residue. Sweep and dispose of materials to the trash if hazardous materials are not involved.

Mop, wet-vac (or, if absolutely necessary, wash) and collect water. Dispose of water in sink or sewer drain, not the storm drain.

If a final rinse is necessary for health reasons, then collect rinse water and dispose of to the janitorial sink or indoor floor drain. If outdoors, block storm drain before applying water, collect water and dispose of to the janitorial sink or indoor floor drain.

Disposal of Materials

Do not dispose of hazardous or inappropriate materials such as oil, grease and cleaning products down the sanitary sewer.

For questions about proper disposal of hazardous materials, contact the Sonoma County ECO-DESK at (707) 565-DESK.