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Airport Deicing Effluent Treatment and Regulatory Guidelines

Airport and airplane deicing is employed with the use of brines, salts, alcohols or ethylene/propylene glycols to remove and prevent or delay the formation of snow and ice (see Figures 1, 2, and 3).  In the United States (US), the Federal Aviation Administration requires airlines that operate during icy conditions to perform deicing and anti-icing of aircraft and airfield pavement (USEPA 2011).  These deicing operations use large amounts of chemicals, which may drain off airport facilities to nearby rivers, lakes, streams and bays (USEPA 2009).  Airports that conduct aircraft deicing operations, have 1,000 or more annual jet departures or have 10,000 or more total annual departures would be required to collect spent aircraft deicing fluid and treat the wastewater (Goodwin 2011).  According to Goodwin (2011) with the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the airports may either treat the wastewater on site or send it to an offsite treatment contractor or publicly owned treatment works.  Airports are required to obtain stormwater discharge permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program and ensure that wastes from deicing operations are properly collected and treated (USEPA 2011).

Content Table

Airport Deicing Fluid Management

Airport managers are waiting to see how the regulations will affect their operations, but are aware that changes will be needed (Liner 2011).  USEPA estimates that 21 million gallons of ADF (50% glycol concentration) are discharged to surface watrs annually from airport deicing operations across the country, and an additional 2 million gallons are discharged to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) (USEPA 2010).  Transport of spent fluid to a sewage treatment by way of a sanitary sewer is alost always the most economical method of treating deicing fluid, provided that sufficient biological loading capacity is available at the treatment plant (USEPA 2010).  However, many sewage treatment plants will only accept limited quantities of glycol-contaminated runoff (USEPA 2010).

Figure 1 Airplane Deicing (Source: Metropolitan Airports Commission/ 2011)


Figure 2. Britain Mulls Laws to Fine Airports After Snow Chaos (Source: 2010)


Figure 3. The Deicing Facility at Cleveland International Airport (Source: R.W. Armstrong & Associates and CETCO Lining Technologies Inc./ Geosynthetic 2007)


Treatment and Best Management Practices

Recently, USEPA has new requirements for NPDES permits for storm water discharges related to airport deicing. Some methods of treating effluent from airport deicing are presented bellow:

  • Bio-detention basins/water quality ponds/constructed wetlands
  • Evapotranspiration bed system-can be constructed  above ground or under ground
  • Anaerobic bioremediation system
  • Aerobic systems
  • Cryogenic process/technology may be used

A typical recovery process to reclaim the glycol in runoff from aircraft deicing operations includes pretreatment to remove dirt and debris, nanofiltration to removed the high molecular weight additives, and distillation to increase the concentration of glycol in solution (Vanderlinden 1998). 

According to Switzenbaum et. al. (2001), the following bullets highlight significant issues associated with the current state of deicing system design in the US:

  • Central deicing pads provide better collection efficiencies than most at-gate types deicing runoff collection and require minimal associated labor.  However, airlines operating non-hub operations and cargo airlines are generally unwilling to support pad construction due to concerns over delays.
  • Central wastewater treatment plants are almost always the most economical method of treating deicing chemical runoff, if sufficient biological loading capacity is available. Direct anaerobic discharge or anaerobic onsite pretreatment may be economical in capacity-limited situations.
  • Hybrid-deicing equipment and alternate PDMs offer significant near term BOD reductions that will almost assuredly translate to lower management costs.
  • Careful crafting of permit to lower management costs.
  • Careful crafting of permit upset provisions can significantly reduce the cost of management systems.
  • The USEPA is currently conducting a study to determine if regulation of deicing fluid runoff is warranted on a nationwide basis. 

Regulatory Standards

In the USEPA's 2004 Effluent Guidelines Plan, the agency announced that it would begin development of a regulation to control the pollutants discharged from airport deicing operations (Federal Register 2011).   Based on preliminary study and on public comments, discharges from deicing operations have the potential to cause fish kills, algae blooms, and contamination to surface or ground waters. Sources of these pollutants include airfield deicers and aircraft deicing fluid that is not properly recaptured, re-used, or treated before discharge (Federal Register 2011).  The USEPA Technical Development Document for Proposed Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards for the Airport Deicing Category (EPA 821-R-09-004) is used in the engineering design and analysis for technology and solution development for minimizing pollution to water sources through airport deicing chemicals. USEPA's proposed effluent guidelines in 2009 are presented in Table 1.

(Click here)

Table 1. Summary of Proposed Airport Deicing Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards (Source: Aviation & Airport 2009)


Further Reading

1.  Environmental Impact and Benefit Assessment for Proposed Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards for the Airport Deicing Category 

2.  Economic Analysis for Proposed Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards for the Airport Deicing Category

3.  Low Temperature Biodegradation of Airport Deicing Fluids

4.  Final Report: On-Site Recovery of Glycols from Airport Deicing Fluid Using Polymeric/Ceramic Composite Membranes

5.  Waste Aircraft Deicing Fluid: Management and Conversion to Methane

6.  Impact of Airport Pavement Deicing Products on Aircraft and Airfield Infrastructure

7.  Airport Runway Deicers Impact on the Environment Greater Than Previously Thought

8.  Airport's Deicing Pollutant Likely "Stressing Aquatic Life" in Cook Inlet (Video)

9.  Portland Airport's Deicing System Harms Fish

10. Deicing at Vienna Airport (Video)

11. Treating Glycol Runoff from Airport Deicing Operations

12. Deicing Fluid Recovery a Hot Topic at Nation's Airports

13. History, Processing, and Usage of Recycled Glycol for Aircraft Deicing and Anti-Icing

14. The White House, Office of Management and Budget-Meeting Record Regarding EPA Airport Deicing Effluent Guidelines (PDF copy 1)

15. The White House, Office of Management and Budget-Meeting Record Regarding EPA Airport Deicing Effluent Guidelines (PDF copy 2)

16. EPA's Development of Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs) for Airport Deicing Operations

17. TERC: Airport Deicing Rule

18. Airport Deicing Effluent Guidelines Project (USEPA, Powerpoint Presentation)

19.  EPA Regulations: Too Much, Too Little, or on Track? (Congressional Research Service)

20. EPA Requirements for Liquid Propylene Glycol

21. Aircraft Deicing Operations

22. Implications of Proposed EPA Effluent Guidelines for Georgia Aquatic Animal Production Facilities

23. EPA Unveils New De-icing Regulations; Controversy Looms

24. Who is Subject to the NPDES Storm Water Program and Needs a Permit?

25. US Government Accountability Office: "Aviation and the Environment"

26. Stormwater Discharge Requirements for Airports (Powerpoint Presentation)

Related Articles

Water Efficiency
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Related Publications

Sludge Treatment and Disposal - Cleverson Vitorio Andreoli, Marcos von Sperling and Fernando Fernandes 
Publication Date: Mar 2007 - ISBN - 9781843391661

Experimental Methods in Wastewater Treatment - M.C.M. van Loosdrecht, J. Keller, P.H. Nielsen, C.M. Lopez-Vazquez and D. Brdjanovic
 Publication Date: Feb 2014 - ISBN - 9781780404745


Aviation and Airport. 2009.  EPA Proposes Airport Deicing Effluent Guidelines. on December 16, 2011).

Federal Register. 2011. Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for Airport Deicing Operation. (Accessed on December 16, 2011)

Geosynthetics. 2007. Use of Geosynthetics in Deicing Facilities at the Cleveland Airport. (Accessed on December 16, 2011)

J. Goodwin. 2011.  US EPA Update. (Accessed on December 14, 2011) 2010. Britain Mulls Laws to Fine Airports After Snow Chaos. (Accessed on December 16, 2011).

M. Liner. 2011. Cold Weather Contaminants. (Accessed on December 14, 2011)

Switzenbaum, M.S., Veltman, S., Mericas, D., Wagoner, B. and T. Schoenberg. 2001. Best Management Practices for Airport Deicing Stormwater. (Accessed on December 16, 2011).

US Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. Proposed Effluent Guidelines for Airport Deicing-Airport Deicing Effluent Guidelines. (Accessed on December 14, 2011)

US Environmental Protection Agency. 2010.  Managing Aircraft and Airfield Deicing Operations to Prevent Contamination of Drinking Water. (Accessed on December 16, 2011).

US Environmental Protection Agency. 2011a.  Airport Deicing Effluent Guidelines. (Accessed on December 14, 2011).

G. Venderlinder. 1998.  Fluid recovery system at Bradley International Airport. Paper presented at a deicing waste conference sponsored by the Bradley International Airport.

Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for Deicing Operations (USEPA 2011)

Storm Water Discharges From Industrial Facilities

Effluent Guidelines

Industrial Permit Guide

Preliminary Data Summary: Airport Deicing Operations (USEPA 2000)

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