Your eating crops aren't eating your craps.
Those biosolids are one product of sewage treatment. The other product is liquid. If a plant discharges to a stream or river (as opposed to the ocean, the biggest diluent on Earth), we have regulations strict enough that the stuff can be immediately sipped up into a drinking water plant. So if Californians today react in horror to "toilet to tap" plans, that's another totally dumb form of disgust. Processing wastewater into drinking water is safe, makes total sense, and already happens in plenty of places worldwide.
We Can Never Shut Down, No Matter What Goes Wrong
Every so often, some factory pours a barrel of pure cancer right into the drains. "This'll show Captain Planet and the Planeteers!" they sneer, and this kind of illegal dumping does in fact screw up the treatment process. When one toxic slug (that's what we call these unhealthy volumes of wastewater) came through the plant, it killed our entire biological process. At that point we lost our ability to remove ammonia and solids, and it all discharged to the river ... because we cannot stop the flow of influent. Not even for a second. Streets and toilets would overflow with sewage if we closed our influent pipes, so it's not an option, ever.
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And roaches would swarm up and eat you, probably.
Oh, and it doesn't have to be toxic chemicals. It can be something as innocent as a large load of rags -- one time, illegally dumped shop rags got tangled in the bar screens and created a blockage, causing influent to pour over the channel walls into a facility. Remember, large plants are processing hundreds of millions of gallons a day -- this was a huge problem. Everyone worked like crazy to clear the blockage, while others ran around stopping up every drain that runs to the river, trying to contain it to just the facility grounds. Afterward, the lab tested the river, the impacted soil, just about everything for pathogenic organisms and other contaminants from raw sewage. The results weren't pretty, but everyone did what they could.
If something goes wrong at the plant, we have to go over the place with a clipboard and send all data (both analytical and logistical) to the state, and it is determined whether we're to blame. If we are, we pay millions of dollars in fines. If someone else is, we litigate. If it's an act of God, we get something of a pass. This was the case for plants in Texas recently, and in Colorado during the flood of 2013, when impossibly high water flows overloaded the plant and it was hydraulically impossible to treat the load. Yeah, sometimes Mother Nature gives us more than we could ever calculate, and there's very little we can do -- if your whole plant is underwater, it's a bit difficult to treat the sewage (though there may still be workers there desperately trying to minimize the effects). Do I need to tell you that if you're ever in a flooded area, you should just assume the water you're wading in is contaminated?
Marc Piscotty/Getty Images News/Getty Images
So feel free to just poop wherever.
This is also my way of pointing out that us wastewater workers keep mass outbreaks of things like cholera and typhoid away from modern society every single day. So try not to grimace and wipe your hands on the side of your pants after we slap five.
Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for stuff cut from articles and other things no one should see.
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