Boston Harbor

Colleagues See Wastewater “Eggs” up Close

By Amy Miller

When my corner of EPA New England – the Public Affairs office – went on a retreat last week, we took our meeting to the great beyond. Instead of meeting in a generic conference room in our office, a dozen or two of my closest colleagues and I went out to the world that gives our work meaning.

EPA staff tour the Deer Island Wastewater Plant in Winthrop, Mass.

EPA staff tour the Deer Island Wastewater Plant in Winthrop, Mass.

To be specific, we met at the Giant Eggs. Most anyone who flies in or out of Logan Airport knows about these huge white containers, a dozen eggs sitting on the edge of the Boston Harbor on Deer Island off of the Town of Winthrop. On a clear day, you can’t miss the sight of these ovals reaching 130 feet high.

What jet passengers may not know is that these containers are filled with human and industrial waste. Each day the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant accepts an average of 360 million gallons of wastewater from homes and businesses in 43 cities and towns. This facility, run by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, makes sure our sewage is separated enough, filtered enough, treated enough and clean enough to safely enter the Boston’s waters.

To accomplish this, the plant first removes grit, then treats and retreats the wastes, which are separated by gravity into liquids and solids. The effluent is filtered, scum removed from sludge, treated with chemicals and digested using microorganisms, much the way a stomach digests food. Treated solids are sent through a tunnel to Quincy so it can be turned into fertilizer. Water that has been cleaned many times over is sent 10 miles out to sea and discharged through 50 different pipes. And methane released in the digestion process is used to heat the facility.

In welcoming us to the plant, Executive Director Fred Laskey acknowledged there is still work to be done. But he was proud of the tremendous results the plant has seen. Largely because of $3.8 billion invested in Deer Island in the last several decades, the cleanup of Boston Harbor is a national environmental success story. Plant Director Dave Duest eagerly invited us to tour the plant, which sits on 210 acres that includes walking five miles of walking trails, views of the ocean and parkland.

Stqff of EPA New England check out the view from the top of the giant eggs at Deer Island.

Staff of EPA New England check out the view from the top of the giant eggs at Deer Island.

The best part of the tour is what it lacked – any odor. We were grateful for the chance to climb to the top of the eggs, and also pass by two disinfection basins, each about 500 feet long with a capacity of 4 million gallons – and never smell a thing, thanks to the scrubbers and carbon absorbers that remove the smells. In the basins, the treated effluent is mixed with sodium hypochlorite and then finally, sodium bisulfite to de-chlorinate the water to protect marine organisms. After disinfection and dechlorination, the liquid is ready to be discharged.

Deer Island is actually a national park. Folks there welcome visitors and proudly show off their odor-free operations, which by the way are not visible from the nearby residential community of Winthrop.

So it’s not just EPA folks that are welcomed on Deer Island. Tours are offered, by reservation on Tuesdays and Fridays by calling (617) 660-7607.

http://www.mwra.state.ma.us/03sewer/html/sewditp.htm

Boston Harbor cleanup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIN1S5mJoCQ

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Amy Miller, who is in the Office Of Public Affairs of EPA New England, edits this blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Love that Dirty Water?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

Since 1966, when The Standells recorded “Dirty Water”, millions of fans each year at Fenway Park have sung along to the chorus “love that dirty water, ooh Boston you’re my home”. For decades, those lyrics accurately portrayed the condition of Boston Harbor. Bostonians almost seemed to view the condition of the harbor as a badge of honor and a reflection of the city’s blue collar grittiness.

After a tremendous effort by literally thousands of people and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, the recovery of Boston Harbor) is an amazing success story. At one time people were advised to get tetanus shots if they came in contact with the water, Boston Harbor now hosts International Cliff Diving competitions and swim races. At one time, fish were covered with obvious tumors and lobsters suffered from black shell disease, now a diversity of marine life exists. Deer Island Flats, once considered one of the most contaminated sites on the planet, now supports eelgrass, one of the most sensitive marine species in our region.

The EPA dive team has recently been documenting some of these positive changes. We’ve conducted dives around a number of the harbor islands and off of Runway 33 at Logan Airport. Improved water quality has allowed a plethora of marine life to flourish. Most Boston residents do not realize that they live on the edge of a true wilderness. A quick peek below the surface reveals sharks, striped bass, harbor seals, lobsters, harbor porpoises and even the occasional wayward humpback whale. Perhaps it is time to retire the iconic Standells hit in favor of The Beatles song Octopus’s Garden. Not quite as catchy for the Fenway faithful, but in 2013 much more accurate.

More info on visiting Boston Harbor islands

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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OSV BOLD Tweets Its Way Up the New England Coast

Hi there! Each day thousands of people are working at EPA to help clean up our environment. I’m one of the lucky few that gets to see how this work is done out on the ocean! My name is Jeanethe Falvey, I’m 24 years old and have worked for EPA for just over two years since I graduated from Bates College in 2007. This week, from July 30 – August 6, I will be onboard the OSV BOLD, EPA’s only ocean research ship. Scientists will be studying the health of New England’s coastline from Boston Harbor to Penobscot Bay in Maine, and I’m here to help show you what life is like onboard the ship. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/ne/boldkids/ and follow me on Twitter @epalive!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.