I saw a river of poo running down the wall and I ran towards it

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Photo by Ron Whitaker on Unsplash

nce upon a time, I used to be pretty squeamish. Apparently that has worn off.

I started working with my dad over 5 years ago. As an industrial electrician, I knew that his job was never particularly glamorous or clean. There were nights that he had to strip in the entryway and his work clothes had to go right into the washing machine before he was allowed to come any further into the house.

Large aggregate plants come with more than their fair share of dust. Take chunks of a mountain, crush it up, bake it in a giant kiln and then crush it some more. The end result of this process is various types of rock dust. Some of the dust is caustic and burns when it mixes with your sweat. Other dust is food-grade and you can literally lick it. Knowing the difference between the two is imperative.

Then I was introduced to the beautiful world of water and wastewater treatment. There is only a part of me that is being facetious when I use the word “beautiful”. Treating human waste is an incredibly intricate process that is a fine balance of science and automation. The requirements for releasing treated sewage back into the waterways are incredibly stringent and Environment Canada regulates the carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demanding matter; suspended solids; total residual chlorine; and un-ionized ammonia and has not-to-exceed levels for all of these substances. In order to meet these requirements, a wastewater plant is filled with instrumentation, pumps, filters, UV sterilizers and chemical dosing equipment. Imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory if it wasn’t chocolate that they were processing.

Despite the inescapable odours, I truly have come to love the wastewater world sheerly for the interesting nature of the whole thing. There are many things in this world that we can avoid, flushing the toilet is not one of them. As the population of a town increases, so does the amount of waste that needs to be treated. In order to accommodate this ever-rising tide, wastewater treatment is continually undergoing innovative upgrades in order to keep us all above water.

I am currently a project manager at an upgrade to an existing wastewater plant and we are almost done. Everything is in the final testing stage and the system is being run. After a site walk, I had stepped outside to chat with another contractor when I heard the unmistakable sound of water dripping. Spinning around on my heels, I quickly saw that it was not in fact water. It was far, far worse. Not a word was spoken as I took off running towards the source of the flow in an attempt to alert the operators that something had gone horribly wrong.

My boots splashed in a puddle; the puddle had chunks.

Luckily it was a simple problem and, more importantly, not my fault. I stuck around to make sure there was nothing I could do to help alleviate the situation and then went home. Stopping right inside the back door, my clothing went right into the washing machine. My boots got a good spray of disinfectant and I got a long, hot shower. That marked a new milestone in my career.

I saw a river of poo running down a wall. And I ran towards it.

Crazy dog mom, mental health advocate, project manager and writer

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