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Hillsborough may increase allowable levels of lead, other chemicals in industrial wastewater

Industrial plants, hospitals and manufacturing facilities will be able to increase the amount of toxins they expel into Hillsborough County’s wastewater system under new rules commissioners will consider Thursday.

The proposal would increase the daily allowable levels of nine substances in industrial wastewater. The allowable levels of lead would triple from 0.15 milligrams per liter to 0.45 milligrams per liter and arsenic levels would more than double. Acceptable levels for one substance, silver, would decrease.

Industrial wastewater is sent to Hillsborough County treatment plants before it is used in irrigation or discharged into Tampa Bay.

George Cassady, director of the Public Utilities Department, said allowing for higher levels will not affect the water quality that leaves its facilities. That’s because Hillsborough’s water treatment plants can scrub out the chemicals, even at the elevated levels, he assured.

Hillsborough County boasts that the water it discharges into the bay is suitable to drink.

“We’re not jeopardizing our ability to meet our permit requirements,” Cassady said. “Even though the limits may be going up and some excited people may say that you’re taking it easy on industry, the reality is we’re giving them practical limits that they can meet and the rest we can scrub out of our system.”

Hillsborough County residents can weigh in on the changes during a public hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. The proposed ordinance, including the new levels, can be read here. Commissioners are expected to vote on the measure after the public hearing.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection asked Hillsborough County to review its industrial wastewater regulations several years ago, leading to this update of the existing idustrial wastewater ordinance, Cassady said. To determine the new levels, the county used a DEP program that analyzed the current chemical levels in wastewater from industrial facilities against the capacity and abilities of Hillsborough’s treatment facilities.

The county’s industrial wastewater discharge regulation ordinance was created in 1985. About 21 facilities must meet these standards.