EPA Compliance: Oil Water Separator Systems for Safe Discharge & Reduced Costs

Companies that operate air compressor systems often face the challenge of complying with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, specifically concerning the treatment and disposal of contaminated condensate. 

Penalties for non-compliance can be severe, including hefty fines and reputational damage. Oil-water separators offer a solution for condensate that helps meet EPA standards, ensures businesses comply with legal requirements, and reduces operational costs. 

Understanding the Environmental Protection Agency and the Importance of Compliance

The Environmental Protection Agency is a federal agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment. One of the EPA’s key responsibilities is ensuring that pollutants discharged into the nation’s waters comply with standards set by the Clean Water Act. This applies to water contaminated by industrial processes, including the condensate produced by compressed air systems. The regulations set standards for the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of compressors and oil-water separators to prevent contamination of natural waters.

Businesses must meet EPA standards for condensate contamination to avoid costly penalties. 

It is illegal to dump untreated, contaminated wastewater from air compressors with over 40 ppm of oil.

According to the EPA, being out of compliance can lead to penalties of up to $25,000 per day for negligent violations. Subsequent convictions for negligent violations can reach upward fines of $50,000 per day, while subsequent convictions for known violations skyrocket to $100,000 per day. The EPA takes offenses seriously, and your business should, too.  

Air compressor wastewater cannot contain more than 40 parts per million (ppm) of oil, but the average air compressor condensate contains approximately 300 ppm. Oil-water separators function by drawing on the physical properties of oil and water to reduce ppm.  Temperature fluctuations, ambient air, and pressure all contribute to moisture generation within air compressors. Moisture droplets then mix with used oil and other particulates.

The process begins with the collection of condensate. Oil, being less dense than water, naturally separates and floats to the water’s surface. Condensate separators skim the oil off the top before water is discharged or reused. The condensate then passes through coalescing plates or multi-stage filtration systems designed to further separate oil from water. After passing through filters, the mostly decontaminated water moves towards the final separation stage. Any remaining oil droplets are removed, ensuring the water meets the required environmental standards for oil discharge below 40 parts per million. The separated oil is collected in a container for proper recycling, while the cleaned water is discharged.

Oil-water separators can ensure long-term savings and compliance.

In most cases, oil-water separators are a requirement for air compressors. If you are wondering what could happen if you don’t use one, we’ve compiled a list of additional repercussions. 

  1. Operational Downtime: Regulatory agencies may mandate operational shutdowns until compliance is achieved.


  1. Increased Removal Costs: Without separation, the entire volume of condensate may require increased removal costs for industrial waste.


  1. Increased Maintenance for Air Compressors: Failure to properly manage condensate can lead to increased wear and tear on your air compressor system, resulting in more frequent breakdowns and maintenance requirements. For example, many oil-flooded rotary screw compressors have a lifespan of 100,000 or more hours, but that number is significantly reduced and interrupted when compressors are not properly maintained.


  1. End Product Contamination: If not equipped with the proper air treatment equipment or left unchecked, excessive moisture and harmful contaminant carryover can cause costly damage to end-use equipment and products.


  1. Insurance Challenges: Companies that violate environmental regulations may face higher insurance premiums due to increased risk assessments.

In short, oil-water separators safeguard compliance with environmental regulations and extend the life of your equipment. 

Discover the Benefits of Partnering with Air Handling Equipment

Air Handling Equipment provides industry-leading air compressors and specialized components, including oil-water condensate separators, to businesses aiming for EPA compliance and operational efficiency. Our oil-water separators effectively separate water, oil, and dust particles created from the air compression process. They also offer the following features: 

  • Designed to handle diester, PAO, glycol, hydraulic, food grade, and mineral-based lubricants
  • .5-60 gallon collection capacities
  • 30-10000 CFM system conditions
  • Cartridge replacement and maintenance-free options

Along with providing reliable equipment, our team protects your investment through professional installation and follow-up maintenance. We’ll help ensure your equipment meets environmental standards while bringing the unmatched expertise needed to install and maintain your systems properly.

Don’t let non-compliance affect your bottom line. For more information about our compressor equipment and parts, contact us or call 1-800-736-3321.

With office locations in Sidney, Loveland, and Gahanna, Air Handling Equipment has provided compressed air system solutions to the Midwestern and Southern Ohio markets since 1977. This includes proudly serving the greater Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, and Findlay, Ohio areas. For questions about our selection of used air compressors, call one of our locations or fill out our online contact form, and someone from our team will get back to you as soon as possible.