Nitrogen-Eating Bacteria Helps Arlington Treat Waste Water | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : News

Nitrogen-Eating Bacteria Helps Arlington Treat Waste Water

Play associated audio
Microscopic organisms remove nitrogen from Arlington's waste water at the Water Pollution Control Plant in South Arlington.
Michael Pope
Microscopic organisms remove nitrogen from Arlington's waste water at the Water Pollution Control Plant in South Arlington.

Since the 1930s, Arlington County has operated the Water Pollution Control Plant along the northern edge of Four Mile Run, a stream that forms part of the county's southern border.

But something's changed this year. The plant has something new: nitrogen-eating bacteria as part of its waste water treatment system. In a conference room at the plant, operations manager Frank Corsoro shows how the level of nitrogen that's discharged into the river has declined.

"These are the total maximum daily loads but on a annual basis in pounds per year," he says. Moving his finger across the graph, he shows a blue line that peaks at 12 pounds per year then dips down to 1.4 -- well below new guidelines released last week by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I would find it hard to believe that, right now, anybody is lower than us," Corsoro says. "I would be very surprised."

That's because Arlington County has invested more than $500 million into this plant over the last decade.

Past the aeration tanks, beyond something called a sludge digester, Corsoro comes to the new facility.

"It doesn't look like much. But this is really is what's allowing us to get down to these very, very low total nitrogen levels," he says.

Fairfax County doesn't have one of these. Neither does Alexandria. That means that they'll have to find some way to cope with the new standards.

That's an especially difficult problem for Alexandria, where raw sewage is dumped into the river during heavy rains. Alexandria officials declined to answer questions about the new standards, but the situation is different in Arlington.

"There's a lot of competition for the dollars that are out there, and the county, I think, wisely chose to get in the queue first and develop their plan well in advance of when the requirement was going to kick in," Corsoro says.

As to whether Arlington's leading the region in this area, Corsoro says, "I don't think there's any question."

Stripping nitrogen from waste water doesn't come cheap, and other local governments in the D.C. area are facing the potential of following in Arlington's footsteps -- by investing hundreds of millions of dollars into reducing the amount of pollution headed to the Chesapeake Bay.

NPR

Sandwich Monday: The Korean Steak Sandwich

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a sandwich with a cult following. It's the Korean steak from Rhea's Market and Deli in San Francisco.
NPR

Sandwich Monday: The Korean Steak Sandwich

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a sandwich with a cult following. It's the Korean steak from Rhea's Market and Deli in San Francisco.
NPR

After 5 Weeks Of Haggling, Congress Inks Bipartisan VA Bill

Congress has reached a bipartisan deal to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, after nearly two months of tense negotiations.
NPR

It's Boom Times For Pop-Up Shops As Mobile Shopping Clicks

One-click online shopping is changing how we shop. Stores with leases as short as a day are proliferating — meaning a storefront can be a designer clothing store one day and a test kitchen the next.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.