Sunday, July 15, 2012

What we learned from Prof Berman's toilet

Today was a beautiful day. It was probably about 80 something degrees and sunny. We met downtown in the Faneuil hall area.   Amidst the hundreds of shopping and dining tourists, the class gathered. The hustling and bustling downtown Boston is a tourist trap these days.  However, this is a fairly recent development.  This area historically was used for fish and fruit markets and was mostly occupied by big old warehouses.  In fact, the area we met is called Long Wharf.  Wharf is an acronym for Ware House At River Front W-H-A-R-F.  This term started in London on the Thames river, a huge shipping hub. Settled by the English we consequentially adopted this term and even though the Boston wharfs are located on harbor front.  Just an little interesting factoid I picked up while living and studying in London.        Anyways, this is important because the demolition of this decrepit area and the cleaning of the harbor coincide ultimately transforming this area into a tourist and child friendly area for millions to enjoy and spend billions of dollars.

Today we learned how this transformation happened.  Approaching the Boston Harbor clean-up issue from a macro standpoint we observed the big picture.  While Prof Berman made it abundantly clear that it really is the little stuff that counts (little things that live in the mud to be more specific) the big things are the ones that make the smaller changes possible.   We discussed glacial movement and destruction and learned that the islands in the Boston Harbor are a result of such natural phenomenon.  while some of the islands are quite large, the smaller ones risk the hazards of erosion and will surely be wiped out in a matter of a few decades. And interestingly enough the sand beaches we enjoy are totally artificial.  Without imported sand, these islands would just be mudflats.  While all of the islands initially were created by debris left behind by glaciers, some such as deer island were built up with garbage landfill.  This is one of the main contributing reasons for the filth of the harbor 25 years ago.

After establishing that the harbor was extremely dirty by examples of lack of shellfish and deterioration of ecosystems, Prof Berman told us how his crew and the government went about cleaning it up. Focusing solely on human waste we went through the purification process by making a human version of a toilet.  First we had: a toilet, pipes, sewer system connecting to other sewer systems eventually leading to Deer island where the waster would begin to be treated.  In the egg shaped digesters the biological purification begins.  By separating the solids and liquids they are left with material to make pellets used for fertilizer and water.  The water is then further purified and sent out to be disbursed in a network of underwater sprinklers miles out in the ocean.

So that's it for to go meet the class at the Long Warf Marriott to go on another expedition.

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