As part of corporate sustainability efforts, Norfolk Southern looks for opportunities to improve business operations that make good economic sense and benefit the environment. A stormwater reclamation and coal fines removal system installed at our coal terminal in Norfolk, Va., is a model of this “win-win” approach.
Stormwater Recycling Project Serves as a Model for Sustainability Efforts
Norfolk Southern’s Lamberts Point Coal Terminal is on the Elizabeth River, a southern tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, an important nursery and habitat for numerous fish species, crabs, oysters, and other wildlife. The terminal’s Pier 6 transfers export coal from railcars onto colliers for use around the world, mainly in steel-manufacturing processes but also for electricity generation.
In the late 1990s, the railroad constructed a stormwater-retention pond system to control runoff going into the river. In March 2013, we added a new feature: stormwater recycling. The innovative project, a voluntary upgrade of the retention pond, has enabled the company to conserve municipal water supplies, support community efforts to enhance the ecological health of the river, and reduce operating expenses.
The approximately $3 million upgrade allows us to reclaim stormwater for use in washing equipment and suppressing coal dust at the terminal. It also gives us an easier and less expensive way to continue the removal of coal fines – small pieces of loose coal – from the runoff.
The reclamation system generates economic benefits. It has cut the company’s cost of recovering the marketable coal fines and also reduced spending on municipal water for controlling dust and washing equipment. The project’s core focus, however, is environmental, supporting our corporate sustainability goal to mitigate and reduce the impacts of railroad business operations.
Using recycled stormwater for dust suppression, rather than city water supplies, has reduced the terminal’s monthly use of municipal water by 1 million to 1.5 million gallons. During the first year of operation, the system reclaimed roughly 10 million gallons of stormwater.
The reclamation system collects rainfall by gravity through waterfront storm drains. The stormwater is then pumped through Hydrocyclone filtration units that spin with centrifugal force to remove the coal fines and deposit them into railcars. The filtered water flows into the retention pond. On the opposite end of the pond, about 800 feet away, a pump draws water near the surface and sends it through a two-step “eco-friendly” treatment process – carbon filtration to remove organic material and ultraviolet light that neutralizes bacteria, such as E coli. The water then is pumped into a storage tank for use as terminal process water.
Norfolk Southern and other businesses have partnered with the Elizabeth River Project, a community nonprofit, to help restore the river’s water quality, polluted by decades of industrial activity. Because Norfolk Southern is a user of the river, the company believes it has a corporate responsibility to assist efforts to improve the waterway’s ecological health. Norfolk Southern supports the Elizabeth River Project’s goal to make the river safe again for swimming and fishing by 2020.
“A lot of people think that big industry doesn’t care about the environment until somebody forces their hand,” said Ray Jones, director piers and facilities, who spearheaded the project. “Norfolk Southern has done many other projects that show we care about the environment and are taking care of the land and waterways around us.”
Sustained Environmental Performance
Norfolk Southern earned recognition from the Elizabeth River Project for installation of the stormwater reclamation system at Lamberts Point.
The ERP, a nonprofit conservation group, presented Norfolk Southern with a 2013 Sustained Distinguished Performance award. Norfolk Southern is a “Model Level” partner in the ERP’s River Star Business program, the highest level for businesses. The railroad has received the Distinguished Performance award for two consecutive years.
“It really is an impressive project,” said Pamela Boatwright, the ERP’s deputy director administration and River Star program manager. “Through its efforts at Lamberts Point, Norfolk Southern has shown its commitment to environmental stewardship and is contributing to our long-term goal to make the Elizabeth River safe again for swimming and fishing.”