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Podcast 223 - Poop Beast Part 1  RSS feed

 
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Summary


After visiting Missoula's wastewater treatment plant, Paul and Heath Carrey from Montana organization of Soil scientist talk about human bodily waste management and poop beasts.

They talk about the poplar project of the Missoula wastewater treatment plant to process poop Kool-Aid by putting it on a plot of poplar trees as a way to reduce the amount of affluent going into the Clark Fork river.

Heath talks about the evolution of the wastewater treatment plant from the opening in 1962. He mentions that the plant includes very expensive technology that takes lots of energy and money to maintain and upgrade.

They talk about the negative effects of wastewater on waterways due to their pharmaceutical, heavy metals, chemicals, and nutrients content. He explains that the idea with the trees to use the nutrients instead of sending them in the river where they would be in excess. In the water, the nutrients are almost only processed by bacteria and can cause algal blooms. On the other hand, the trees use the nutrients for growth, will bind chemicals and pharmaceuticals and will build soil over time which in turn will take more water and nutrients. They list a few poop beast that could be used: poplar, cotton wood, willow.

Heath talks about the issue with water volume in sewage treatment plants. He and Paul explain that the volume issue can be mitigated by putting an aerator on the kitchen sink faucet, using low flow shower heads, installing greywater systems, going poo-less. Paul suggests a scale where 1 would be reducing the water going in the sewer and 10 would be composting toilet with urine diversion and greywater system (eliminating the need for sewers).

Paul and Heath emphasize that it is not a good idea to use the compost from the trees growing on sewage sludge on food crops. They also mention their concerns on using the wood from the poop beasts because of the pharmaceutical, heavy metals and chemicals that can end up in it. They mention that it would be fine to use wood and compost from the poop beasts if you know what was in the poop which is not the case with city affluent.

This podcast continues in part 2.

Relevant Threads

Podcast 076 -Creating an Oasis with Grey Water 1
Podcast 077 -Creating an Oasis with Grey Water 2
Podcast 149 - No Soap or Shampoo
Podcast 175 - Tree Bogs and Natural Burials

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Interesting that this post comes up today. I just attended a webinar about just this topic by Dr. Snyder. His team has been looking at pharmaceuticals and other "wasteproducts" in our drinking water supply with special attention to Lake Mead.

I did ask him about phyto-remediation (aka constructed wetlands) and he admitted that this is a field scientists are only starting to look at properly. However, the amount of "human by-products" in our surface and groundwater is enormous. Another colleague of mine who invited me to speak at a conference gave a talk about the "low fat diet impact" which concentrated on sucralose in waste and groundwater.

I have heard that certain reeds and rushes have been found to remediate even POPs such as Dioxins and PCBs (I think I heard that in Bill Mollisons Aquaculture series. Does anybody know where I can find the study about that?

 
Adrien Lapointe
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Nils Rehmann wrote:Interesting that this post comes up today. I just attended a webinar about just this topic by Dr. Snyder. His team has been looking at pharmaceuticals and other "wasteproducts" in our drinking water supply with special attention to Lake Mead.



Is the webinar available online?

Do you know much about what pharmaceutical/chemical end up in plants that are fertilized with sewer sludge? I know that heavy metals will make their way into plant tissues, but before this podcast I had never heard of more complex molecules (e.g. pharms).
 
Nils Rehmann
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HI Adrien,

I am still trying to find out about the availability of the podcast. One of my colleagues has ask me about it as well.

I know a fair bit about the pharmaceuticals that end up in the water supply. Or at least can find out about it. I work a a chemist in Canada and we do water sampling as well as soil testing. So ask away if you want to know anything in particular. I might not know straight off hand but can find out.

One of the chemicals that I was not aware of, but thinking about it makes sense, was DEET. That wonderful bug spray North Americans are using by the hecto gallon every year.
More disturbing were pharmaceuticals that act as so called "endocrine disrupters". Those chemicals are of steroidal nature and mimic hormones. I was aware of those before. Only 1-2% of the active ingredient of birth control pills is digested by the body. The rest is "discharged" and ends up in our sewage systems. Since treatment plants are not designed (not yet) to target those chemicals they end up in our watersheds and at some point in your glass on the dinner table. Great, right?
The problem with those are that in the aquatic environment they can cause aquatic species to turn from male to female, or at least exhibit female physiology and become sterile. Needless to point out what goes along with that.

I will try to get a link to the webinar. Dr. Snyder explored certain treatment methods to decrease the amount and concentration of such anthropogenic chemicals and explains his findings in detail. He also points out how the distribution of the chemicals in Lake Mead are different depending on the chemical compound.

Hope this helps.

Nils
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Thanks Nils,

I was more wondering about what chemicals are actually taken up by trees and made into wood. Paul and Heath voice their concerns with using the wood from trees that were used in the sewage treatment test plot because of the chemicals that can make their way into the wood. I was under the impression that most complex molecules would not make it to plant tissues.

The rest is "discharged" and ends up in our sewage systems. Since treatment plants are not designed (not yet) to target those chemicals they end up in our watersheds and at some point in your glass on the dinner table. Great, right?



It is very disturbing. How much does actually end up in our drinking water? Here were I am (Montreal suburb), we take our water from the Mille-Iles river, which is in fact the same water as the Ottawa river. I would assume that there is a lot of pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceutical, and nutrients (NPK) ending up in this river since we are downstream from Ottawa and Eastern Ontario farmlands. Any study on the subject or what is found in drinking water?
 
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[I copy this post as well to the thread for podcast #224 - Poop Beast pt2, because it applies to both halves of the podcast]

One observation and one question:

1) Paul really made me laugh in this podcast when, in a sarcastic tone, he implied that people generally don't go to visit sewage treatment plants just in order to stand around and watch the water in the big settling ponds. This is of course generally true, and in fact many such facilities aren't open to the public. But I happen to have grown up the son of one of the more preeminent birdwatchers in the state of Maryland. He and a select group from the Southern MD Audubon had an arrangement with the major sewage treatment facility up the highway. And so, I actually spent many a day during my childhood gazing across the ponds of settling poop coolaid and exploring the little thickets of woodland between the ponds, even if I would have rather been home watching my Saturday morning cartoons at the time, LOL!

2) I was amazed at the point discussed in this podcast that man-made chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals, taken up by sewage-irrigated trees might not only remain present in the wood years later, but might actually be absorbed through the skin from the finished lumber from those trees if it were, say, made into floor boards. My first reaction was that any such concern must surely be totally overblown. But then again, what do I really know about it? Nothing. I would be very curious to see what type of research has been done into this type of thing. Is it really feasible for chemicals to be transmitted in such a way? In any appreciable amounts?
 
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I haven't listened to this podcast yet, but I intend to. In the meantime, two things jumped right out at me. This:

They list a few poop beasts that could be used: poplar, cottonwood, willow.



And this:

They mention that it would be fine to use wood and compost from the poop beasts if you know what was in the poop which is not the case with city effluent.



Here's the connection. Any cattle ranchers are bound to have a lot of cattle poop. Hell, I run 1-2 head on 5 acres and *I* have plenty. But the big boys -- especially in a state like Montana, where they must practice dryland ranching, really, seriously, urgently need to put this into action -- with the poop beast WILLOW.

Willow leaves and branches are GREAT cattle fodder, one of the best. I can tell you this from personal experience. My beef cattle eat all the willow they can get, and I intend to be planting all of it I can this winter and next spring. Paul you should investigate this for your fellow Montanans, if they're not planting willow already. Certainly I make no claim to have "discovered" this. But this is about a practical a permaculture option for agribusiness that I can imagine.

 
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Nils,

What kind of water and earth testing do you do? I've been tangentially interested in the practicalities and economics of "regular people" testing their water for a long time. One fellow I talked with at a US Geological Survey event in Palo Alto who ran a lab that used spectrometry to test water samples told me the machine was booked solid almost 24/7, turnaround in weeks at the minimum and the cheapest cost he could imagine ran about $400+ USD (but likely more in reality). That didn't sound promising for regularly scheduled tests for the average homeowner, especially if masses of people caught on and started doing it.

What can you tell us about available tests and their costs that might be applied, for example, to well water quarterly or at least once a year?


Thanks for any info.

Rufus
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Some answers to questions from this post were posted on the Poop Beast Part 2

Nils Rehmann wrote:Hi there again,

@Adrian, sorry for not answering on you post earlier, I was away for the weekend. I do not know what concentrations we are looking at when it comes to Pharmaceuticals and which ones are the predominant ones. I could find out though if I can find the time to sift through some papers.

As for chemicals getting absorbed through the skin or breathing from wood that has taken up man made chemicals through sewage water. I personally don't think that there is any problem. Maybe one or two molecules make it through this long chain of events, but it is very unlikely or nearly impossible to have any effect on our body. I think the drinking water issue is a far more problematic one. Many chemicals will get altered and changed throughout the pathway that they flow through. Especially plants have a wonderful way of changing and breaking down chemicals. What ever is in your floorboards, I am sure that the glue and varnish that is put on them is several orders of magnitude more detrimental to ones health than leftover pharmaceuticals.

I take it a little bit like I take cigarette smoke. While it is fashionable to complain about the health effects of cigarette smoke and second (or now even third) hand smoke I think the danger is much much lower when walking passed a smoker than standing behind a school bus at a red traffic light. Nobody ever says anything about that. Our kids get lulled in Diesel fumes every day and yet the one guy with the cigarette on the other side of the car park gets troubled because he/she is endangering our kids health.



 
Adrien Lapointe
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Nils Rehmann wrote: I do not know what concentrations we are looking at when it comes to Pharmaceuticals and which ones are the predominant ones. I could find out though if I can find the time to sift through some papers.



If you get a chance, that would awesome.
 
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