By Christopher Weigl, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Every time you flush the toilet, assuming you'se hooked into the sewer system, that sewage travels through miles of piping and lift stations to eventually arrive at a wastewater treatment plant. Marlborough's Easterly Wastewater Treatment Plant, headed by interim Chief Operator Scott Rossi, processes about 3 million gallons of water a day sourced from the entire east side of the city, plus accommodating septic pumper trucks from both Marlborough and Northborough. It is a daunting challenge to deal with so much waste and the accompanying smells, and Rossi admitted as much.
“It's not a glamorous job…it's a very important job,” he said.
Rossi grew up in Fitchburg and continues to reside there now, living with his wife and three daughters in the same house his parents bought in 1959. He initially worked at Novacor Chemicals, a now-closed chemical plant, which sent him to Lowell Tech to obtain his Wastewater Treatment License. Operators need to have in-depth knowledge of chemical processes and interactions, machinery, and ecology, a delicate mix that requires specialized training. Rossi is proud of his accomplishments.
“For the average person just to walk in and take the exam, it wouldn's happen.”
The chemical plant closed in 1989 and Rossi moved for two years to the wastewater treatment plant in Wayland-Sudbury. In 1994 he moved once more, this time to the Marlborough plant and became the interim chief operator after the previous chief, John Dumas, left due to a work-related injury in 2010.
Most of the busiest work at the plant happens around 7 a.m., when the plant's five workers arrive “to make sure everything operated properly overnight.” They need to take water readings, collect samples and ensure that all the machinery is running smoothly; given the huge size of the plant and the winding tunnels underground, Rossi estimated that employees “probably walk three, four, five miles here over an eight-hour period.”
While the enormous tanks, complete with humming motors and churning rotors, are loud and mechanical, Rossi explained how similar the process is compared to what happens naturally.
“What we do in these tanks right here is the same thing that happens in marshes and streams and ponds,” he said. “We accelerate the process is what we'se doing. It's the same process that takes place in nature.”
Sewage enters a series of enormous tanks that settle, aerate and break down the waste. Heavier sludge from these tanks is returned time and again to the “bughouse,” as the organism-filled aeration tanks are affectionately called, to continue the process. Excess sludge is piped to a large press to eventually be composted. Following aeration, the water travels to another tank for ammonia removal before being disinfected with chlorine, dechlorinated, oxygenated and released into a nearby stream.
“The water we have going out is actually cleaner than the little stream that goes down in the back.”
When asked if he would drink the water Rossi laughed.
“I wouldn's no, I wouldn's recommend it.”
Despite this hesitation, even the larger settling tanks the water travels to from the aeration tanks are, Rossi said, “No worse than the water I swam in as a kid…Would I do it today? No. Because that hasn's been hit with chlorine yet. But that's like pond water right now.”
The entire plant is surprisingly stench-free, the only real exceptions being the sewage input area and the biosolid press room, which emit a putrid smell that Rossi admitted is his least favorite part of the job. Despite these downsides, Rossi finds satisfaction in knowing the job he and the others perform is essential.
“Behind medicine I would hazard a guess that water and wastewater treatment has extended the life expectancy of the average person significantly. So while I say it's not really a glamorous position, it's vitally important.”
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