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Tour of Hampton sewage treatment plant eye opening for group of teens

| Monday, May 23, 2016, 3:39 p.m.
Kelsey Kuzniewski, a senior at Hampton High School, covers her nose as she joins fellow AP Environmental Science classmates on a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Kelsey Kuzniewski, a senior at Hampton High School, covers her nose as she joins fellow AP Environmental Science classmates on a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
James Degnan, director of environmental services for Hampton, right, gives students from Hampton High School's AP Environmental Science class a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
James Degnan, director of environmental services for Hampton, right, gives students from Hampton High School's AP Environmental Science class a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
One of the tanks at the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
One of the tanks at the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Alex Elway, left, and Spencer Homitz, right, juniors at Hampton High School, look at over some tanks as they join fellow AP Environmental Science classmates on a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Alex Elway, left, and Spencer Homitz, right, juniors at Hampton High School, look at over some tanks as they join fellow AP Environmental Science classmates on a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Kelsey Kuzniewski, left, and Sam Clutter, right, seniors at Hampton High School, listen to discussions as they join fellow AP Environmental Science classmates on a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Kelsey Kuzniewski, left, and Sam Clutter, right, seniors at Hampton High School, listen to discussions as they join fellow AP Environmental Science classmates on a tour of the Hampton Township Water Pollution Control Plant on Monday, May 16, 2016.

A tour of Hampton's sewage treatment plant surprised some local teenagers.

“I thought it would smell worse,” said Sarah Jameson, 18, one of 20 Hampton High School juniors and seniors who explored the facility on May 16.

Visiting the Hampton Township Pollution Control Plant is a spring rite in biology teacher Christine Ruffner's Advanced Placement Environmental Sciences class at Hampton High School.

“All these kids volunteered to come,” Ruffner said about the students who recently visited the 45-year-old plant and Hampton's biggest physical asset. In addition to a lot of aging infrastructure, the students saw cement tanks of water filled with oxygen-hungry, microscopic bacteria devouring organic waste.

They saw the machines that shred “flushable” wipes and sift golf balls, rags and egg shells from incoming sewer water.

The students also saw the manhole cover to a 36-inch-wide pipe that each day carries at least 3 million gallons of waste water from 10,000 Hampton and Richland households into the sewage treatment plant.

“We have 120 miles of pipeline,” said James Degnan, 38, of McCandless, director of environmental services for Hampton Township.

“We have all sorts of systems that help us determine how the plant is working,” Degnan said.

The students also learned that the plant produces 10 tons of sludge per day and treats 750 million gallons of waste water per year.

Jim Hughes, the plant's laboratory manager, showed the students two beakers of colorless water and asked them to guess which beaker contained tap water and which beaker contained treated waste water.

“What we're putting in the creek is cleaner than the creek water,” Hughes told Ruffner's students. “You could drink it if you had to.” What did the students learn by visiting the plant?

“Don't flush 'flushable' wipes,” Brendan Gillespie, 18, said after a viewing a short film with his classmates on the indestructible nature of some wipes along with cotton swabs, dental floss and other items that some people flush down commodes.

Degnan encouraged the Hampton students to put such items in the trash.

Two years ago, Hampton officials spent $461,515 for a package of new sewage treatment equipment, including two trademarked Dimminutors — waste water grinders — to replace two comminutors that shred disposable wipes and other fibrous products.

“As costs are increased to my department, or any other sanitary authority, those costs unfortunately are passed on,” Degnan said.

Simply throwing away disposable wipes “can alleviate literally hundreds of dollars in a plumber's bill for your own personal (sewer) line, and future expenses that are going to be generated because we have to deal with these waste products,” Degnan said.

Deborah Deasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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