About Zachary Matson

Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Stuart Alan says

    Another informative & timely article, filled with interesting facts and images that most of us can not easily learn or view. The specifics about how the facility operates, and its impact on the wastewater was especially educational.

    My only other feedback is that I believe LG is the ‘Queen of AMERICAN Lakes’, not the ‘Queen of Lakes’. Although this is a great ambition to aspire to !

    However, if this is the worst criticism of your work, one word missing out of thousands, then you are doing very well !

  2. JB says

    This was a great non-technical explanation of a modern, state-of-the-art WWTP. With denitrification and plug-flow SBRs, this will be a huge upgrade from the relict plants of yore and hopefully a model for other Adirondack towns. However, I think that it is essential to acknowledge that these newer technologies are far from perfect and must evolve as our societal practices surrounding waste evolve.

    For example, the 1950s saw the explosion of consumer utilization of phosphate-based personal care products, and this spurred a growing awareness of the negative ecological consequences of eutrophication that led to the development of wastewater technologies to eliminate phosphorus from effluent and, ultimately, a phase-out of phosphate laundry softeners from the consumer marketplace. Unfortunately, few of the roughly 100,000 compounds used in pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) have had such benign fates. When we replaced biopersistent branched alkylbenzene sulfonate (BAS) detergents with more biodegradable alternatives beginning in the 1960s, new formulations containing those labile detergents then required antimicrobial stabilizers, which were in turn often even more ecotoxic and biopersistent. Those stabilizers were then subsequently replaced by a procession of new compounds, often resulting in a cascading trade-off of the benefits of increased biodegradability for the harms of increased toxicity and water-solubility–isothiazolinones are particularly ubiquitous and problematic now in this respect, being dubbed “the next DDT”. And, from a wastewater treatment perspective, that combination of ecotoxicity and water-solubility is a monumental problem that will require the deployment of next-generation technologies (ozonation, pyrolysis, membrane, etc.) that are decades away, at best.

    The problem is that in creating the outward appearance of a society that is increasingly effective in protecting the environment, we run the risk of becoming increasingly effective at *appearing* to protect the environment–sweeping our problems under the rug and creating problems that are more difficult to detect and solve in the process. Fading are the days of lakes frothed with islands of persistent foam from BAS laundry detergents and discolored by wanton eutrophication. Our problems now are increasingly invisible, even to analytical instruments that were considered state-of-the-art until the turn of this century. Not only are consumers enthusiastically adopting new household formulations and novel drugs with each passing year, but they are using greater quantities and demanding that they be more effective–and all of this is ending up in our waterways and, especially with the new composting laws coming down the pipe, in our farms and fields.

    There is too much investment in the deployment of toxic consumer products and little to nil investment in protecting consumers and their environment from the former. There are not going to be perfect solutions, but there are things that we know that we can do right now to reel in this runaway feedback loop. There are ubiquitous household compounds in use that we know are harmful and that can be replaced with more benign alternatives–Europeans are progressing towards comprehensive regulation and monitoring of consumer products, while North Americans are only addressing a small handful of high-profile ingredients, and only at a localized level. There are also societal mechanisms to limit our use of the most environmentally damaging pharmaceuticals–some European nations have proposed mandatory consumer notices about pharmaceutical ecotoxicity and alternative choices, while others have created incentives to reduce use altogether. Certainly, there is a complex constellation of socio-political factors effecting this discrepancy. (For instance, US consumers prefer liquid laundry detergents, while Europeans have opted for powdered detergents that require less engineering and additives to be commercially viable; experts have attributed this in part to the fact that Americans wear heavier clothing and thus have the need for highly effective detergents over Europeans.) But there are also certainly American ways of dealing with the problem. Even at the wastewater treatment-level, the EU has allocated huge funding for advancing novel technologies to deal with these very problems (e.g., Projects Neptune, Repharmawater, Poseidon). Meanwhile, we are struggling to fund basic infrastructure. In a balkanized and privatized North America, perhaps an effective outcome instead entails putting a Pigovian impetus on corporations that produce pollutants to fund solutions. But no problem can ever be solved by ignoring it.

    For a good overview of the subject of PPCPs in wastewater, check out https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es040639t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your monthly donation now will support Adirondack journalism year round.

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Explorer!