Searching for clues in the Rhine water

Each day, a large number of products is manufactured at the Ludwigshafen site. And whether it is used for cooling, flushing or as a raw material, water always plays a part in the process. If something appears in the water that does not belong there, Disruption Management is informed and the team sets out to get to the bottom of the matter. 

Every day, approximately 5 million cubic meters of water from the Rhine flow through the cooling water pipes. As a comparison: An Olympic swimming pool “only” contains 2,500 m³. This cooling water is not polluted and is piped back into the river. Over 30 measuring stations across the site check and ensure that the water is neither too warm, nor polluted.


Waste water is also tested

The waste water which is treated in the BASF waste water treatment plant must also be inspected. It cannot contain any substances in amounts which could damage the waste water treatment plant. The treated water amounts to approximately 300,000 cubic meters per day. The majority of this comes from BASF, with the rest coming from Ludwigshafen and Frankenthal. “We ensure that we find disorders as quickly as possible and solve them,” said Harald Elpel from Disruption Management (ESE/WM). “If we find any deviations, we set out to find the cause.”

Online monitoring in the inlet to the waste water treatment plant provides the first warning, with the samplers on the main waste water canal which runs parallel to the Rhine along the site providing additional data. If potential errors are detected there, the team then immediately takes water samples which are then examined in the laboratory. Once the substance has been specified, it is possible to determine which plants in which sector of the site could be the source of the pollution. These plants then provide samples with their waste water, enabling the team to determine which substance entered the waste water from which plant. “Good cooperation between the plants and Disruption Management is paramount here,” said Elpel. “Depending on the location of the plant, we only have between one and three hours before the waste water reaches the treatment plant.” If it is not immediately clear which plant is responsible, the source has to be honed in on by inspecting each canal to see if pollution is present – painstaking detective work under real time pressure.

After all, if the waste water treatment plant is not properly prepared, excessive concentrations of certain substances could harm the microorganisms in the plant. Elpel explains: “It is therefore all the more important that we know that something is coming as soon as possible. The colleagues at the waste water treatment plant can then divert the affected waste water into storage basins and, once the substance has been identified, either treat the waste water separately, or pipe it into the waste water treatment plant in tolerable doses. This means the waste water treatment plant can continue to run safely and smoothly.”