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This DC water plant is using human waste to make fertilizer


WASHINGTON (Circa) — Going to the bathroom is a daily human function. A person goes into the room, handle's his or her business and flushes. However, that's not where this process ends. In fact, a lot of details occur after that flush. Every city has a similar process, but in Washington, DC, water goes the extra mile with the feces.

Actually, it's the extra steps it takes that make it the world's largest advanced wastewater plant. After separating waste from the water, the officials at DC Water turn it into a fertilizer product called Bloom.

"It's 4.5 percent nitrogen, 4.5 percent phosphorous and it has a ton of carbon on it," said Chris Peot of DC Water. "We're billing it as fertilizer and blending it with other things to make it a topsoil substitute."

The nitrogen, carbon and phosphorous in Bloom come directly from the waste in the water. The DC Water treatment plant, like most, has a process of removing those elements from the water. DC is among the few that actually use them to make fertilizer. It extracts them during the regular cleaning process.

First, the water is run through filters that collect huge and small debris in the water. That includes things as big as tree limbs and items as small as condoms.

"Some operators say they occasionally find money [during the filter phase]," Peot explained. "No one has admitted [taking the money], but I'm sure they have."

About 40 to 50 tons of junk are filtered through the plant every day. After it's collected, it's transported to a local landfill.

Technicians then work to remove phosphorous, carbon, nitrogen and pathogens to make the water clean again. They do so by using aerobic entities called microbes. The microbes are placed in the filthy water, with air being funneled in from below. Despite the fact that the microbes make the water appear brown, they are actually eating the things the waste is leaving behind. After that, any contaminants that survived the process are filtered out and the water is sterilized. Soon after, the water is released into the Potomac River, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay.

The phosphorous, carbon and nitrogen that were removed from the water are essentially microwaved to kill potential viruses. Then, DC Water uses the elements to create Bloom. The fertilizer is then used by farmers around the D.C. metropolitan area.

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