PIT Recycling Effort Returns Water to Ohio River

Extensive treatment separates water from deicing fluid

By LaVar Howell

Published March 7, 2022

Read Time: 2 mins


Deicing airplanes is a necessary function at weather-challenged airports like Pittsburgh International, but the combination of deicing fluid and melted snow is also an environmental challenge.

PIT has been collecting and recycling the mix of water and propylene glycol that makes up deicing fluid since 1998.

“PIT was one of the first airports in the U.S. to initiate a program to collect and manage spent aircraft deicing fluid,” said Kevin Gurchak, PIT’s Director of Environmental & Workplace Safety. “We were performing sustainable actions before sustainability was cool.”

Contractors heat the fluid to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit to melt the snow and ice off aircraft. Inland Technologies, an on-site environmental services company contracted by the airport, then collects the resulting fluid from the deicing pads via drains and separates the glycol from the water.

The water goes through four iterations of processing before it is returned to the airport’s water provider, Moon Township Municipal Authority. There it undergoes further processing at the Leonard L. Nary Wastewater Treatment Plant at Montour Run before finally being discharged into the Ohio River.

“What’s happening at PIT is a responsible method for handling industrial wastewater that is protecting the streams, river and protecting public health,” said John Riley, general manager of Moon Township Municipal Authority. “It is a responsible reuse of water returned to the environment without causing any harm.”

Growing demand for water

Industrial water conservation is becoming imperative to the environment, social welfare and ecosystem health.

The Water Resources Group, an arm of the World Bank, reports that water demand is expected to exceed current supply by 40 percent by 2030. This will result in municipalities drawing more water for residents and businesses, further depleting rivers and other water resources.

By recycling clean water into the Ohio River, PIT is directly helping industries such as agriculture, a major user: According to the World Bank, agriculture accounts on average for 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals globally.

Since 2001, PIT has returned more than 100 million gallons of processed water to Moon Township that eventually goes back into the Ohio River, according to Gurchak.

That’s the equivalent of more than 6 million 16.9-ounce bottles of water distributed by Niagara Bottling LLC, which draws Ohio River water at its nearby Imperial, Pa., facility.

PIT’s current water conservation efforts will increase once the construction of the $1.39 billion Terminal Modernization Program (TMP) is complete in 2025. Among other measures, the airport will begin harvesting rainwater.

Fluid is collected from the deice pad where the water and glycol mix goes through four reiterations of processing before finally being discharged into the environment. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

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