Writing Contest Winners 2019-2020

Second Place, Grades 6-8

Shreya Jha
Grade 6, McCall Middle School, Winchester
Ms. Marebeth DiMare, Teacher

Flush Frugally!

"Calm down everyone!" Julia's teacher exclaimed. Julia and her class were ecstatic because today was the day Brooklyn was coming to talk to their class. Brooklyn was the tour guide that led Julia's class on a journey to explain the use of STEM in the MWRA.

Julia wanted to investigate something she was thinking about for a long time. What should we flush down the toilet?

Julia had many memories and learning adventures at the MWRA. Julia realized that the last time she went to the MWRA was last year on a field trip with her class to learn about the use of science, technology, math and engineering at the MWRA. As Julia was waiting for Brooklyn to arrive, questions were running around in her mind. What shouldn't we flush down the toilet? What happens when we flush materials down the toilet that should not be flushed? What is acceptable to flush down the toilet? These were the questions that were soon to be answered.

As Julia was thinking about her questions, Brooklyn came into their classroom. "Hello again! It is a pleasure to see you all once more. Today is a very exciting day. I will be teaching you guys about what to flush down the toilet." Julia already had another question formed in her head. “Can you explain what happens when we flush our toilets and how it reaches the MWRA?" "Of course!" Brooklyn exclaimed.

"First, the flush takes the wastes down to the sewer pipes which are connected to your house. The sewer pipes not only collect your waste; it also collects the soapy water from your showers or baths, the dishwasher, and even the washing machine! All of this combined is called sewage. Then, all the sewage from your house flows downhill. Next, the sewage from everyone in your neighborhood collects together and travels into even bigger pipes. These pipes are called sewage pipes. Then the 5,100 miles of local sewers transport the sewage into 227 miles of MWRA interceptor sewers. The MWRA has an extremely important job in this part of the process. The MWRA has to purify the water. The MWRA has several further steps to ensure that the wastewater is clean.

All this information made Julia want to learn even more about this topic. “Are there any problems with this process?" "That is an excellent question Julia!" Brooklyn exclaimed. "There are two major issues with this process. One issue with this process is that many items that should not be flushed get mixed into the sewage. Some of the items are 'flushable wipes’, medications, oils and fat, and disinfectants. One big problem with wipes is that many packages say that it is flush able. However, the wipes do not disintegrate like toilet paper. The problem with not disintegrating is that if a scrap of undissolved material gets caught on an area within a pipe, it can trigger a growth of buildup that could cause a sewer backup in your home, workplace or neighborhood. Flushing medications and other chemical based products are also harmful for the environment, aquatic animals, and humans. When medications are flushed down a toilet or drain, they enter the wastewater treatment system. Unfortunately, many of these treatment systems are not designed to remove medications.

Oil and fats are another major source of problems inside the pipes. The grease sticks to the pipes and other materials. This can eventually cause buildup inside the pipe causing the pipe to explode. The explosion is called a sanitary sewer overflow or SSO. Furthermore, many cleaning products contain bleach. When your family decides to clean the toilet, the bleach falls into the toilet bowl. The bleach travels through the intricate network of pipes. While the wastewater is in the primary and secondary treatment phase, the chemicals are broken down and removed. However, the microbes that remove the chemicals are not strong enough to eliminate the bleach. The bleach can react with other substances in your pipes, potentially releasing fumes and further plug the system."

Julia realized after the speech that sanitary sewer overflows are very dangerous and cause a lot of harm to the environment and humans. She wanted to help prevent this from happening. "Is there anything we as students can do to help prevent SSO's?" "That is such a thoughtful question Julia! One thing you can do is use non-toxic or less toxic products or make your own. You can also use the right amount of toxic chemicals so that the chemicals don't need to get disposed. Thank you all for listening and learning about what should be flushed down the toilet. In the future, I hope this motivates you all to flush frugally!"

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