Waste + Water

I’m fascinated by wastewater treatment. I think it’s because I’m a Science Mom. When you’re a Science Parent, and your 3-year-old asks what happens to poop after you flush the toilet, you feel compelled to find an answer. Scientists research stuff. It’s what we’re trained to do.

My second interview ever was with Micky Nowak, a project manager at my local wastewater treatment plant. He took me all over the plant and told me how everything worked. I got to sit in on a 5th grade class visit, too. And watch microscopic critters munch on what we politely refer to as “floc” (short for flocculent – the reader is encouraged to google it). Wastewater plants aren’t as smelly as you would think, either. Coliform bacteria produce smelly hydrogen sulfide and methane in the airless environment of your digestive system. But in a wastewater plant, those same bacteria eat the same food in the presence of oxygen. In that environment, they produce carbon dioxide and nitrates.

I was originally asked to write 900 words for this article, but I misremembered and wrote 1100. Much darling-murder ensued, and then I was asked to cut it further to 700 words, so it could take up only two pages. Argh! The history of sewage got trashed. It was worth it, though. The graphics by Coni Porter take an equal amount of landscape as the text, and do at least as good a job of telling the story.

One day, I’ll write a book on this stuff.