Discharge standards are among the most important regulations to control pollutants discharged from industries and domestic uses. China has made great efforts to build up its discharge standard system and develop methods to derive limits. However, there is still a lack of systematic analysis of measured data and derivation of discharge limits based on statistical methods. The present study, taking chemical oxygen demand (COD) discharge limits of urban wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) as an example, reviews the history of discharge standards of WWTPs in China and analyzes the statistical distributions of COD concentrations from 1753 WWTPs. Based on the lognormal distribution, three factors—geographic location, treatment process, and ratio of treated wastewater from industries—were found to be significantly correlated with logarithmic COD concentrations via a regression model and long-term averages of WWTPs were derived. Daily maximum variability factors for WWTPs based on the 99th percentile of the distribution of daily measurements and the discharge limits for WWTPs were also derived by multiplying long-term averages by variability factors. This study develops, for the first time in China, discharge limits based on statistical methods. The results may inform special discharge limit settings for different types of WWTPs.
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