Chemistry in Wastewater Treatment Operations
- May 19, 2013
- Posted by: Eric & Patti Wahlberg
- Category: From the Mind of Eric Wahlberg
Keith Boger founded WasteWater Technology Trainers (WWTT). Keith originally worked as a chemist for the City of San Diego and then as the Director for the State of California’s Water Quality Control Institute. He was also one of the original authors of exam questions for wastewater treatment plant operator certification in the state. Since we took over WWTT from Keith, many students have requested a “chemistry for operators” class. It is with great delight and pride that on May 15-16, 2013, WWTT presented its first Understanding Chemistry and Its Application to Wastewater Treatment Operations at the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Elk Grove, California, team-taught by Dr. David Jenkins and Dr. Sidney Innerebner (pictured below with WWTT’s co-owner, Dr. Eric Wahlberg). David is well known throughout the state−indeed, the world−for his long and prolific career as an environmental engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Early in that career, he co-authored the much-used text, “Water Chemistry.” Sidney started her wastewater career as a chemist in the lab at the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant in Colorado, and now trains water and wastewater treatment plant operators with her company, Indigo Water Group (www.indigowatergroup.com); she also is an adjunct professor at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Sidney was the Task Chair for the recent update of the Water Environment Federation’s “Basic Laboratory Procedures for the Operator-Analyst,” often touted as “Standard Methods for operators.” A chemistry thread runs long and strong through WWTT’s existence.
When we were planning this course it occurred to us that wastewater treatment plant operators use chemistry every day but maybe not with the knowledge or appreciation of the fact that they are doing so. We all agreed that we didn’t want the class to try to make chemists out of operators, but simply to provide the understanding of chemical principles that would make operators become better operators. Why do some plants have really bad struvite problems and others do not? Why can’t I add a lot of alum and precipitate all the phosphorus out of my tertiary filter influent?
There is a lot of focus given these days on removing nutrients prior to discharging effluents into the environment. When someone says “nutrients,” reference is typically being made to nitrogen and phosphorus. But as operators we need to give ourselves credit where credit is due. Since we started treating wastewater, we have been removing the nutrient upon which the biosphere is most dependent: carbon. Just the reactions involving carbon that occur in every living cell, those anabolic and catabolic reactions learned in high school biology, are staggeringly awesome in their chemical simplicity and, at the same time, amazingly sophisticated. What’s an atom here, an atom there, an electron here, an electron there among friends? Well . . . everything.
Comment with your most vexing chemistry question or the chemical reaction you find most awesome. We look forward to hearing from you.