It may look like pooh, but it’s so much more.

10 Feb

Since I feel that I contribute a great deal of waste water, I felt I am entitled to take a tour of what happens at the Waste Water Plant. So, that’s just what I did.

I searched around to find one of the three individulas that work there and after some begging and bartering, I was able to schedule a tour on one of my days off.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to wear, so I put on my hiking boots and some shorter pants (I wasn’t sure how deep things would be). I then inquired where the plant was since there are not many signs garnishing the buildings, just building numbers that are completely random.   Humorously, the waste water plant is at the bottom of town.  I thought that was pretty funny! 

I hesitantly walked into the Waste Water Plant and held my breath.  I didn’t know what to expect and wanted to prepare for the worst.  Suprisingly, it didn’t smell and there wasn’t any ‘thing’ on the floor.   I first came to an office where John (my Pooh plant contact) was sitting and working hard, or atleast appeared to be (I think he was checking his personal email or his bank account!).  I guess this was very appropriate for a Tuesday afternoon.

He greeted me and we shook hands.  I was a bit skidish to shake his hand at first, but figured that if he was just typing on his computer, he wouldn’t have just been playing around with pooh. 

We started the tour with a brief description of what generally happens at the Waste Water Plant and John’s background.  Although many think that he sits around and plays with pooh all day or makes up and tells pooh jokes, it’s actually a great deal more interesting and very scientific.  John’s has a degree in English (very helpful down here) and in Chemistry and Biology.  He’s worked in a variety of Waste Water Plants in a number of different cities and varying in sizes.  He truly finds his work very challenging and interesting. 

He showed me the lab in which he performs many daily tasks and weekly checks to make sure the ‘good bugs’ are doing their job.  By ‘good bugs,’ he is refering to the microorganisisms that are naturally found in waste that eat what should be eaten and emit what is needed to make the waste water processing possible. 

We entered the main portion of the plant that consisted of three stations.  Each station contains it’s own system that separates and processing according to set guidelines.  John said that even though this set up is common to many other water treatment plants, it’s extremely small. 

We walked to the start of where the waste water enters the plant and is processed through this strainer-like machine that will catch large pieces of stuff and then it’s divided into one of the three stations.  Once in the station, it’s aerated to a specific level, then pushed through to the end of the station where it sits and naturally separates the liquids from the solids.  The liquids rise to the top (of course) and then are gently pushed downstairs to the UV clarifier.  In the UV clarifier, water is sanitized so that it can be pushed out to the Ross Island Sound, according to all of the Antarctic Treaty guidelines.  This water is usable for cooking and cleaning, but not recommended for drinking.   It was amazing how clear it was.  One might mistake it for water used in a drinking fountain.

The solids that sink to the bottom of the statiosn are also moved to the part of the plant called the digestor.  In one of two digestors, the solids collect and buildup until there is a specific saturation point of water to solid.  The waste water comes in at about 10% solids to liquid ration.  When it reaches the digestor and after it is allowed to sit and stew, the ratio goes up to about 60% solids. 

From the digestors, the solids are pressed through this really cool machine that turns the solids into these realy thin sheets by squeezing out any and all water left.  It’s then pushed through this long tube that leads to into the Cake Room downstairs.  In the Cake Room, the thin sheets carefully fill large cardboard boxes minimizing any airgaps.  Each box contains about 1/4 of a ton of solid waste.  This is then packaged up and held outside (yes, it’s frozen pooh) and shipped off the island once per year on the supply vessel that comes in February.

So there you have it.  Such an important part of our community and yet so misunderstood.  It was a very educational and thought provoking tour.  I wish I had been able to tour this earlier.  It would be really cool to be able to volunteer here during my down time. 

Since I was so interested in the process and how it all works, John took a sample of waste water that was being aerated in one of the stations and I got the chance to look at it under a superpowered microscope to see the good bugs at work. 

WOW is all I can say in response to what I saw!  I saw things that were so cool and amazing.  I am not sure what they all were, but John told me they were all the good bugs hard at work. 

I had never had such an interest in waste water until now.  John suggested that I should take a tour of other city waste water plant when I get back to the states.  It would give me a better appreciation for what happens when I flush the toliet or when I go to use water out of a faucet.

(*I have great photos, but again having technical difficulties.  I will upload them soon.)

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