Another unusual field trip…

A little more than a week ago, my AP Environmental Science class went on another field trip. The trip, while not as scenic as our adventure at the farm,  was an eye-opening and surprising experience.

We visited a waste water treatment plant.

I know, I know, doesn’t sound pleasant at all. But it really only smelled badly for about 5 minutes of the entire 2 hour field trip.

The plant we visited serves more than 1.4 million people and covers 420 square miles. It transports, treats and reclaims all the wastewater produced by these people.

Our guide took us on a detailed tour of the facility. We passed large sedimentation tanks, bubbling vats of contaminant-eating bacteria, and roaring pumps. And yes, we wrinkled our noses a couple of times. I’ll spare you the details of wastewater treatment process, but if you are interested, click here.

One usually would not think of the technology at a wastewater treatment plant as sophisticated, but that’s exactly what it is – sophisticated. The plant is able to produce many valuable resources from our wastewater. Biosolids extracted from the water are digested by aerobic bacteria at 98 degrees Fahrenheit and used to fertilize forests or composted for use in landscaping and gardening. The digester gas produced by this biosolids digestion process is then cleaned and used as an energy source.

The term “wastewater treatment” is misleading. It makes us think we can flush anything down the toilet or drain anything down the sink, and it will just go away and be cleaned. In truth, wastewater treatment is highly expensive, and many of the costly problems that occur at the plant are due to inappropriate disposal of trash. Putting trash, wipes, grease and hair into the sewer system clogs pipes and can create sewer overflows. This in turn will have a negative impact on the environment.

In the kitchen, it is best to compost your food scraps. Some areas allow you to throw food scraps into your yard waste bin. Or, you can compost your food yourself, either by making a worm composting bin or burying your food scraps. To learn more, click here. Remember, grease, fats, oil, and produce stickers should not go down the kitchen drain!

In the bathroom, if it isn’t toilet paper, put it in the trash can or recycling bin, not the toilet. Many people used to think it was okay to flush expired or unused medications down the toilet. But conventional wastewater treatment is unable to remove all the chemicals found in medications. Scientists have found that this practice is harming aquatic life. More and more male frogs and fish are developing female characteristics, leading to reproductive difficulties.  Keeping medications out of the sewer systems will also protect our drinking water. To properly dispose your old medicine, visit your city’s or county’s hazardous waste site, and see if medicine is listed. Some states, including Washington, also have special medicine take back programs.

This trip made me realize my water doesn’t just go away when I’m done with it. I need to think about what exactly I am putting into it, so it stays clean in the future.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Zhengyou said,

    Very informative recount! And thanks for suggestion on expired or unused medication.


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