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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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The sun is shining. The temperatures are rising. A trip to the park is imminent. All of the end pieces of bread saved during the long winter is gathered and ready for the trip. Strolling along the water’s edge the ducks are just waiting to receive some of the bounty, they are so used to being thrown scraps that they follow me to an empty bench where I sit and quickly become their favorite visitor as crumb after crumb is tossed.

It is just amazing to watch the birds run from crumb to crumb trying to get as much as they can. I smile. There is something captivating about feeding wildlife.

Feeding the ducksOf course, until now I had not realized the harm I may actually be causing. Those “wild” ducks shouldn’t be following me around; that is unnatural behavior – they should fear me. The food I am tossing to them is low in protein and are very poor substitutes for natural foods such as aquatic plants, natural grains, and invertebrates.

Angel WingThis artificial feeding causes inbreeding, delayed migration, overcrowding, disease, deformity and water pollution. Some parks maintain a strict “no feeding” area to watch the birds while some places still offer such an activity. The key to feeding the ducks properly is to provide food that is nutritious to waterfowl such as special duck pellets or seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce, and grains, including wheat, barley and oats. These are all healthy food sources that will appeal to most waterfowl.

Of course it is not just about the birds. Water pollution is a big issue in regards to feeding the ducks. Decomposing bread creates bacteria and attracts vermin, especially rats, whose urine transmits Weil’s disease, which can be deadly to people. Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae – which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans – by releasing more nitrates and phosphates. It also denies sunlight to underwater plants. And the bread eaten by birds creates more feces, which has the same effect.

Do Not Feed the DucksFeeding birds is something that people have done for generations, but now, there needs to be more concern about doing it to protect the birds and the environment.

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