What happens to our “stuff” when we flush the toilet?
Until we’re forced to use an old fashioned outhouse or one of those ghastly portables, most of us don’t think much about the miracle of modern plumbing. Or where our waste reaches its final destination.
As a wastewater treatment plant engineer, Chuck Cuyulis is paid to focus on such unpleasantries. And he’s always amazed by what else he finds at the other end of the hole.
“There are four-inch pipes going down into the street and you’d be surprised what winds up in there. We see cell phones and pagers, rings, watches, expensive jewelry, and even the occasional stuffed animal,” says Cuyulis, talking about the screen filters that keep solid objects out of the water purification stream.
“I know one guy at the treatment plant who searches the ‘grit chamber’ every day and keeps a collection of the new stuff he finds,” he adds, noting there is also the expected barrage of plastic razors and personal hygiene products.
Cuyulis, owner of the New Jersey-based EnSoCorp (Engineering Solutions Corp.) consulting firm, isn’t one of the treasure hunters. Serving between 30 and 40 municipal and business clients at any one time, he’s the guy who a city or town calls when its pumps or filter valves aren’t working or when a company needs to hire an engineer to upgrade or expand its infrastructure.
Ever wonder what happens when 1,000 toilets are flushed at the same exact time?
Cuyulis unfortunately knows, due to a large government institution that was overworking its system at four times its capacity. When too many valves are opened at once, you have a potential water pressure disaster, he says.
EnSoCorp recently helped a new big box store in New Hampshire design a mini wastewater plant for the entire shopping center when it didn’t have enough acreage to accommodate a septic tank.
“You wouldn’t even know it’s there,” says Cuyulis, who also provides design services for instrumentation controls and computer systems that automate the plants. “It looks like a garage.”
For creating mechanical layout and electrical wiring diagrams, EnSoCorp relies on DraftSight, a free professional-grade 2D CAD product by Dassault Systèmes. The company also uses the CAD program to read and update DWG legacy files provided by clients.
“Saving a few thousand dollars for a small business makes a huge difference,” says Cuyulis. “But beyond it being free, I like the fact that it is from Dassault Systèmes. I knew it had to be good and it made me feel much more comfortable downloading it and trying it.”
“I wouldn’t want to bet my business on Hank’s 2D CAD software,” he jokes. “I’d rather pay. I also like how easy DraftSight is to learn if you already have a CAD background. For me, there was only a one hour learning curve.”
Software issues aside, Cuyulis says there is one common misconception about the wastewater treatment industry that he’d like to clear up.
“The water going out of a wastewater treatment plant is usually much cleaner than the river it’s going into. The wastewater effluent standards are really tough and they’re trying to get it even cleaner all the time,” he says. “I’d put a drinking glass under the stream without any hesitation.”