Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Visit to the Largest Wastewater Treatment Facility in the World

On August 23rd 2016, a group organized by Go Green Northbrook toured the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago Stickney Plant, the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world! MWRD collects the output of Chicagoland sinks and toilets, and returns it clean and sparkling to our waterways.
Partial View of Stickney Water Reclamation Plant
Since two of the Space Alien's principal concerns are adequate hydration and personal cleanliness, any opportunity to see how these needs are met on Earth is irresistible.   The Space Alien therefore hovered over this group of some twenty local environmentalists to observe the operations of this plant where experts in their fields explained how water reaching this massive facility is pumped to a height from which gravity can lower it through various filtering and cleansing mechanisms, not only preserving the fresh water, but removing solid matter to be treated for use as rich fertilizer for farming and gardening.

While there were many high points to this day, one that stood out for the Space Alien was the talk by microbiologist Toni Glymph, illustrated by slides from her microscope via a large screen TV.   The Space Alien was fascinated by many kinds of tiny creatures that happily thrive on substances that would not normally be part of a human diet.
 Microbiologist Toni Glymph Shows How 
Tiny Creatures Clean our Water by Eating Icky Stuff

The Space Alien Gazette regrets that space considerations prevent saying much more than that these feisty little bacteria, protozoans, and other microorganisms spend their days filling their tiny tummies with all sorts of things in the water that would not be good for humans, and then taking happy naps at the bottom of their pools.

Toni Glymph has published many papers and books on this topic.  Readers seeking basic information about the application of microbiology in this context may wish to see some of her slides at:

The Space Alien snapped this photo of your hard-hatted Editor touring the large pumping facility.
Joan Levin photographed by the Space Alien
Unfortunately by the time your Editor had a camera prepared to photograph the Space Alien, the poor thing, having become terribly overstimulated by all the excitement, had jumped into a nearby aeration basin for a cooling underwater dip.  We hope this did not disturb the busy microorganisms doing their work below!

Space Alien Under Water in MWRD Aeration Basin 

Upon emerging, the fastidious Space Alien was dismayed to learn that the water in this basin had only completed an intermediate stage of cleansing and hurried off to wash up with some Scrub Daddy sponges (featured in an earlier posting and never far from the Space Alien's orbit).

The Space Alien has traveled far and seen much, and understands the importance of water, and is therefore puzzled as to why water so often goes unappreciated by the very beings most dependent upon it.  This is why the Space Alien appreciates every living being at the MWRD including the MWRD Commissioners, particularly Commissioner Frank Avila who hosted this trip, as well as the managers, scientists and other staff members who were our guides, and especially the busy bacteria and other microorganisms that spend their lives cleaning up after us so that we can have nice clean water to drink!
The Space Alien Cares!