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Turning Phosphorus in Wastewaster into Fertilizer

Chicago officials boast that the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant is one of the world’s largest sewer treatment plants, handling the waste of 2.3 million people.

The Stickney Water Reclamation is the biggest single source of phosphorus in the entire region that drains into the Mississippi River. Combined with other sewage plant releases a state task force concluded that these plants are responsible for about half of the phosphorus pollution in rivers that drain into the Mississippi.

Stickney Water Reclamation Plant

The need for more aggressive and widespread action is especially acute in Illinois, which by most estimates is the largest contributor of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution to the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf Pollution

A new $31 million project will help to reduce that pollution by diverting wastewater through three reactors that use catalysts to form tiny, nutrient-rich “pearls” for the fertilizer industry. The district estimates the equipment will produce up to 10,000 tons of slow-release fertilizer a year and reduce the Stickney plant’s phosphorus discharges by about 30 percent.

More still needs to be done, but this project is a good start.

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