Life In the Field

Some Frustrations!

I travel from one water or wastewater treatment plant to another, week after week, happily (usually) doing my job. And the primary issue is always the same: Laboratory Space!!

There never seems to be enough of this critical space for the full time employees so there certainly isn't going to be any extra lab space for a consultant who suddenly just "shows up" because no one in the lab knew I was coming. The lack of a small amount of lab space can make for some very difficult conditions when you are in the field.

What I require to do a good (great) job for my customer is not a lot. I need a little bench-top space, not much at all. I need access to some electrical outlets. I need a sink to dump wastewater samples and reagents. I need a place, just a little space, to put all my equipment cases. These are all very basic, not unreasonable, needs, right? Wrong!

The picture below is not my field laboratory setup. This is actually the laboratory of the operator at the water treatment plant I was visiting in West Virginia. If the full-time water treatment plant operator has no lab space what should I be expecting? Not much!

The very capable, though somewhat frustrated, operator of this water treatment plant was squeezed in between the equipment he was responsible for operating and maintaining..

I Might Be Better Off

Recently I made a trip to a very, very nice small town in Georgia to do some work at an industrial wastewater treatment plant. Do you recognize this place? I felt like I was stepping way back in time, back to the 1950's, though I have no idea what the 1950's were actually like. Perhaps better, safer times then what we have now? I don't know, but this was a nice little town and I felt safe and secure here in a way I don't usually feel these days. So I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

In the photo below, you can see my lab space at the wastewater plant in Georgia. We (I was with some of my most favorite coworkers: Ben and James!!) bought the table (they bought the table) at the local Home Depot. An extension cord has been run to a power strip to give me the electrical outlets I need. Powered up is a Hach HQ40D connected to a luminescent dissolved oxygen probe so I can run oxygen uptake rate tests. Another HQ40D is being used to measure the ORP and pH of the mixed liquor suspended solids sample I collected. My computer is also plugged in to the power strip so I can use Excel to record and analyze my data.

There is no sink, frustrating. But there is a drain! And I have disposable gloves, paper towels, and chlorine wipes to maintain some minimal level of pretend hygiene. For those of you looking closely, the bottled water you see is not for drinking (though one of them might be), they are for rinsing my probes. Also, this is summertime in Georgia. So it is hot and humid and the building I'm in has no air conditioning, no cooling, no airflow. I'm in a jumpsuit, soaked in sweat, just about as miserable as a person can be!

As soon as I've got my pH and ORP readings, and it can take a while to obtain an ORP value, I clear the little space I have so I can do my adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing, proudly shown in the photograph below. ATP testing rocks my narrow, boring, little world, just as it should for all wastewater treatment plant operators!

Below you can see that the oxygen uptake rate testing, usually spanning 15 minutes per test, is continuing, while I'm all set up to determine the true quantity of bacteria oxidizing the organics. And I can tell you with great certainty, the amount of microorganisms on hand to actually eat the food is going to be a lot less than what everyone thinks. And therein lies the awesome value of ATP testing!!

Places You Want To Visit

Small town America still has a lot to offer. Peace, tranquility, friendly people, good food, a not necessarily false sense of safety and security in today's increasingly chaotic and confusing world. This was a nice place to have lunch, on a nice day, with good people. A very good life when you think about it!!

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