Shrinking the big stink on Potomac Interceptor sewer line

John Kelly
Columnist October 23, 2011

Many people believe that Washington’s football team has an unfortunate name. I’m one of them. The problem has always been what to replace it with. I have a suggestion: The Potomac Interceptors.

It’s perfect. “Potomac” encompasses our entire region: the District, Maryland, Virginia. It wouldn’t matter that the team plays in Landover, not Washington. And one definition of an “interceptor” is a lightning-fast fighter jet. How cool is that!

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Of course, when Rex Grossman is at quarterback, it might be more accurate to call them the Potomac Intercepteds. All I know is, sometimes the Redskins stink.

Which brings me in an extremely roundabout way to the original Potomac Interceptor: the 50-mile-long sewer line that runs from Dulles Airport to the sewage treatment plant in Blue Plains. It’s a marvel of engineering. But, as with any sewer line, certain odors are bound to arise, especially with a sewer line that carries 60 million gallons of, um, flow a day, increasing to 127 million gallons when the pipe hits the D.C. line.

Vents along the spine of the Potomac Interceptor have allowed foul odors to escape for years, but now engineers with the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority are aiming to neutralize the PI’s BO. They are sealing off most of the vents and constructing six huge air fresheners.

Well, not air fresheners exactly. You won’t be able to drop in apple cinnamon or “clean linen” scent cubes.

“An analogy would be to a kitchen fan or even a bathroom vent,” said Barry Lucas, project manager for the Potomac Interceptor. “Even a vacuum cleaner, for that matter. Some of them have like a HEPA filter. [We’re] doing something similar, but ours is much thicker than that.”

Blowers will pull sewer gas from the pipe and force it through several feet of special carbon.

“What goes out the top is essentially filtered air,” Barry said.

There will be one filter building in Loudoun, one in Fairfax, three in Montgomery County and one in the District, near Fletcher’s Boathouse.

The buildings are designed to fit into the environment. Some look like barns; one looks like a canal lock house. If you drive regularly on MacArthur Boulevard, you may have been surprised to see a partially constructed building across from the Old Angler’s Inn disappear overnight. The cinder-block inner walls were up when D.C. Water found problems.

“We didn’t think the quality was up to par and asked the contractor to redo it,” Barry explained.

The project should be finished in late 2012.

Some of the new filter buildings, including the one across from the Old Angler’s Inn, will have public restrooms, which means you can cut out the middle man and add your flow directly to the mighty Potomac Interceptor.

And if Rex Grossman should need a new job, the filters will need to be cleaned every year.

Blinded by the light

The District’s Rosalie Iadarola writes: “Why has there never been an outcry about the increasingly bright lights being manufactured into cars? They do not prevent accidents, they cause them.”

Yes, Rosalie! I’ve been wondering the same thing. I’m routinely blinded while I’m driving at night, but I thought it was because I drive a Mini Cooper and sit about three feet off the ground.

We’re not alone. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration invited Americans to weigh in on the issue in 2001, it received 4,000 comments. Motorists blamed the height of headlights on SUVs, drivers who use their fog lights and the increasing usage of HIDs: those blue-tinged high-intensity discharge lights.

In 2004 NHTSA released the results of a nationwide telephone survey. The majority of respondents — 54 percent — found glare “noticeable but acceptable.” However, researchers were concerned that 30 percent found glare “disturbing.” (The report’s authors noted that, in general, women “were found more glare-disturbed.”)

A later study suggested that headlight intensity could be reduced 30 to 50 percent without reducing forward visibility. The matter is still under review.

I wonder whether some glare comes from people who leave their high-beams on, either because they’re heartless and don’t care whether they blind you or because they don’t know how to toggle from high to low beams.

I’m not kidding. Some people are too stupid to use their turn signals. I don’t doubt there are some drivers too stupid to dip their headlights.

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