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Wastewater Treatment: A Dirty Little Secret

Would you jump in this tank to save your friend if she fell in?”

This was one of the ques­tions my tour guide asked me dur­ing my visit to the Lit­tle Patux­ent Water Recla­ma­tion Plant. As I stared at the bub­bling, brown, mucky water, my first instinct told me to say “No, prob­a­bly not.”

Prior to this expe­ri­ence, I had never been to a waste­water treat­ment plant or even thought about the process of water recla­ma­tion. So when I found out that there would be an Exec­u­tive Intern trip to the Lit­tle Patux­ent Water Recla­ma­tion Plant, I was excited to learn more about the process and wit­ness it first­hand. As an Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence and Pol­icy major at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, my intro­duc­tory envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence class men­tioned the process briefly with a few dia­grams, but it was not a very mem­o­rable lec­ture. How­ever, after vis­it­ing Lit­tle Patux­ent, my tour of the waste­water treat­ment plant is one I will never forget.interns at WWTP

Most peo­ple do not know what hap­pens when we flush the toi­let or pour some­thing down the drain. Now, I am one of the lucky few who do. To sum­ma­rize briefly, the process starts with the rak­ing out of major solids, such as toi­let paper, money, and even McDonald’s toys. Any­thing you can fit down the drain flows right into the plant. After that, what’s left is given time to set­tle and the sludge is scraped out. Even­tu­ally, the water flows into a tank that is mon­i­tored to pro­vide ideal con­di­tions for nat­ural bac­te­ria that start to break down major pol­lu­tants. Then, the bac­te­ria are killed using UV rays, and the water, now 99% clean, is released into the Lit­tle Patux­ent River.

Even though there were some over­whelm­ing smells and stomach-churning sights, over­all I was amazed by the tech­no­log­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal processes of the plant. Treat­ing waste­water is a dirty job that we tend to over­look, but it is vital to pub­lic health, pol­lu­tion reduc­tion, and water qual­ity of the Chesa­peake Bay. As a com­mu­nity, we would not be able to func­tion with­out the Lit­tle Patux­ent plant or the ded­i­cated peo­ple that work to keep it run­ning. I highly rec­om­mend that every­one tour the plant at least once in their life, so that you will never “flush and for­get” again.

Arlyn­nell Dickson
Howard County Exec­u­tive Intern
July 2014

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