A wastewater treatment plant is not the most glamorous place for a field trip, but for 16 environmental science students from High Point High School in Beltsville, it was an eye-opening experience.
“At first I was like, ‘We’re going to see dirty sewer water tested?’ ” High Point senior Danielle Gibbs said. “But then when I came here, I thought it was kind of cool to see the different stuff that they do.”
The students spent most of the school day March 5 at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s Parkway Wastewater Treatment Plant in Laurel. It was part of a pilot “sewer science” program in which students learn the science behind wastewater treatment while performing laboratory experiments.
Angela Ballard-Landers, WSSC’s community relations coordinator, said the program, which began less than a year ago, is intended to help foster an interest in the sciences. The program is free, but schools must apply via a lottery to participate because of high demand.
Approximately 120 students have participated, according to WSSC spokesman Jerry Irvine.
“Because of the decline in students entering math and science, the hope is that this will pique their interest, and they will pursue science and math in college, and hopefully come work for WSSC as an intern, maybe moving on to actual employment as a wastewater treatment plant operator or somewhere else within our organization,” Ballard-Landers said.
Plant Superintendent Kevin Selock told students that the Parkway plant treats 7.5 million gallons of wastewater per day, removing solid material and pollutants and disinfecting the water before it is released back into the environment. WSSC treats a combined 80 million gallons per day at Parkway and its other five wastewater treatment plants and sends an additional 100 million gallons to be treated at the Blue Plains plant in the District, Selock said.
High Point students made their own “wastewater,” using ammonia, cereal, toilet paper and other items. They also used wastewater from the plant in various lab experiments to simulate the treatment and testing that goes into wastewater treatment.
“I thought we were going to go underground or do something with pipes,” junior Jonas Barilla said. “But this is way, way better than I expected.”
After learning what goes into wastewater treatment, Barilla said plant employees “deserve way more praise than what they get.”
Senior Christian Ramnath was excited by the visit and said she plans to study science in college.
“I love learning, and I wanted to find out about the process of how they treat the water that we use on a daily basis,” Ramnath said, adding that the field trip gave her a greater appreciation of wastewater treatment.
The students’ visit was capped off with a tour of the Laurel plant.
“Once they see a wastewater treatment plant, they will have a better respect for water, how water is processed, the pollution and how much work goes into treating water,” said Babu George, environmental sciences teacher at High Point.