Welcome to the RMWQAA Website! 

Monthly Blog

Check our Blog page regularly for continually changing info, articles, news, and more!

  • 20 Dec 2019 10:38 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Wastewater is a valuable resource that can be reclaimed into many beneficial products. The mix of biological, chemical, and physical techniques used in this form of reclamation is forced to become more creative as discharge requirements become stricter. Nutrient requirements are a good example. As phosphorus and nitrogen limits drop for many wastewater treatment plants, we have to get creative to find new and cost effective ways to remove these analytes from our treated waters.

    Algae is one solution to our nutrient woes that is getting attention from different utilities and research groups. Algal treatment can be applied to treat for ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (cBOD). Low operational costs paired with the added sales of harvested fertilizer makes this technology realistic for many utilities.

    Gross-Wen technologies (GWT) has developed a revolving algal biofilm (RAB) system where algae grows on a treadmill-like belt that is suspended vertically above the wastewater. The belt rotates in and out of the wastewater allowing the algae to consume CO2, nitrogen, and phosphorus until it is harvested and used to make bioplastics and/or fertilizer.

    Fig. 1. Gross-Wen Algae Treatment Technology.

    Unlike most off the shelf organic brands of fertilizer, this algae fertilizer has slow-release properties that prevents nutrient leaching and polluting of our waterways.

    GWT installed a commercial pilot program at Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District in Chicago, Illinois. During the three-year study, 64 tons of algae was produced per day and $30 million a year was made from selling the pelletized algae. Researchers at GWT project that a commercial-scale facility could process between 200,000 and 1 million gallons of wastewater per day.

    CLEARAS is another research company using algae to clean wastewater and harvest recycled algal biomass. Their technique is different than GWT in that it directly mixes the algae into the nutrient-rich wastewater. After the recovery of nutrients and CO2, the mixture is filtered apart, leaving a clean water stream and a return activated algal stream. Results of their nutrient reductions are shown in Figures 2 and 3.

    Fig. 2. Total phosphorus results comparing influent and effluent. Data set includes 234 separate trials. Average incoming phosphorus = 1.91 mg/L. Average treated phosphorus = 0.02 mg/L.

    Fig. 3. Ammonia results comparing influent and effluent. Data set includes 234 separate trials. Average incoming ammonia = 14.09 mg/L. Average treated ammonia = 0.49 mg/L.

    CLEARAS claims that their system is zero-waste, incurs lower operation and maintenance costs due to the lack of chemicals used and disposed, produces ultra low-levels of phosphorus, nitrogen, biochemical oxygen demand, and total solids, and the ability to easily scale to your facility.

    Regulatory changes and needs of our communities create the opportunity for utilities to innovate systems to become more sustainable, clean energy based, and cost effective. When making choices in the future regarding nutrient removal, algal treatment systems may be a good fit for your utility.   

    Danny McCausland is a Laboratory Analyst for MWRD. He has 6 years of experience in the industry and holds a BA in Environmental Science from Metropolitan University of Denver.

    Full Website Links:

    1.     https://algae.com/

    2.     https://www.clearaswater.com/

  • 13 Nov 2019 10:15 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    The holidays are approaching fast, and with everything that needs to be done, this usually involves a higher level of water usage. Think: cooking a big meal, thawing out your turkey, and more bathroom breaks during the big Thanksgiving game. To help you cut down on your water usage, I’ve compiled some helpful tips to get you through the holidays:

    • Rather than thawing frozen food under running water, consider letting it thaw in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on the microwave. According to FoodSafety, the recommended time for thawing a turkey in the fridge is approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds.
    • Consider washing all your produce in a bowl of cold water instead of rinsing it under running tap water. This change can help to reduce the amount of water lost down the drain. Plus, the water leftover in the bowl can be reused for other purposes, such as watering plants around the house.
    • Rethink rinsing the dishes with running tap water and instead, let your dishes soak in a sink filled with soapy water. This simple shift uses significantly less water and has the added benefit of making clean-up a bit easier.
    • Food waste often leads to unnecessary water waste via the garbage disposal. To cut down on water usage, try to cook only what you need and cut down on the garbage disposal usage. Compost food scraps whenever possible, and when they are not compostable, tossing scraps in the trash is a better option than down the sink. Be sure also to avoid pouring any oils or grease down the drain as this can lead to clogged pipes -- and yes, resulting in more water usage.
    • When cooking vegetables, consider steaming as opposed to boiling. Steaming is a great way to conserve your water usage and has the added benefit of maintaining the nutritional value of the vegetables.  
    • Make the conscious decision only to run your dishwasher with full loads. Especially if you're hosting guests for a big meal, this shouldn't be too big of a problem with the high amount of dishes that you will be using. Cutting down on the number of times you run the dishwasher is a great way to reduce your household's water consumption.

    The holidays are a great time to spend time with the ones we love and to be thankful for all the wonderful things that our life provides. So, let us enjoy the holiday season, while also helping with water conservation in the process.

    Michael Hendricks is the Water Quality Supervisor for GEI Consultants, Inc. He has 4 years of experience in the industry and holds a BA in Biological Science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

  • 21 Oct 2019 9:41 AM | Tyler Eldridge (Administrator)

    In response to Richard’s Local Water News blog from earlier this year, this blog has been written to highlight some worldwide water news. As the new water year begins and the end of the calendar year approaches, here are five uplifting water stories that could help improve our quality of life down the road!

    • 1)     Agreements signed for the Reintroduction of Salmon to the Upper Columbia River:

    From Victoria News in Canada, three leaders of Indigenous groups and two governmental groups have agreed to begin the process of ensuring salmon can reach their once thriving numbers in the Upper Coloumbia River. For the last 80 years dams have prevented the salmon from traveling along their traditional migratory routes, many of these through the state of Washington. The lack of salmon making their traditional runs effects the entire ecosystem, so the First Nations and several governmental agencies made sure an agreement was signed to explore the best ways to reintroduce salmon. In turn, a way of life for the Syilx Okanagan, Ktunaxa, and Secwepemc peoples and their communities could be restored as they will have access to these fish once again. There are, however, plenty of things to consider, such as the best way to manage dams to allow the fish through, climate change, and how the reintroduced salmon will interact with some endangered species now in the basin. This is progress though, and in a world where so many of our ecosystems are consistently fragmented, progress towards reconnecting them is what we need. Read the full story at Vicnews

    • 2)     Global Science Award Given to Teen for Microplastic Removal:

    From The Journal in Ireland, an 18 year old from Ballydehob was given the top award in the 2019 Google Science Fair. His project focused on the removal of microplastics from water using ferrofluids and magnets. The teen did point out that while not as effective on polypropylene plastics, it did show effectiveness with fibers found in washing machines. The experiment showed removal of 87% of microplastics in water samples, with a sample size of 1,000 tests. Could ferrofluids be our answer to the rising microplastic issues? Meet the 18 year old who believes so and watch his presentation video at TheJournal

    • 3)     Microfragmenting of Coral to Help Grow Back Coral Reefs:

    This story is from late 2018 and comes from Tech Maven. Coral reefs can take up to 75 years to reach sexual maturity in nature, however after a coral broke into pieces in the lab a new study was born! Researchers at the International Centre for Coral Reef Research and Restoration found that the corals grew back to their initial sizes in a few weeks rather than the three years it took to grow the original coral piece. What scientists found even more amazing was that once these fragments grew and they touched each other, they recognized themselves and fused together forming one large coral. This process speeds up coral growth by nearly 40 times! The restoration process is in full swing along the Florida Keys. Read more about the crew and check out their BBC Earth Video online at Sci-Techmaven

    • 4)     Creating Drinking Water from Air:

    A story from March this year in the Jerusalem Post provides insight on the Isreali company Watergen, a group determined to bring clean water to just about anywhere in the world just by pulling it out of the atmosphere. Their devices have been improved yearly since they were established in 2009, and have already provided aid in disaster locations across the world, included the United States! Essentially, the device pulls in air, filters the air, then through their heat exchange and cooling process condenses into water. Once filtered and hardened the water can be used as fresh drinking water. With just an electricity supply, the largest generator can create 5000 gallons of drinking water in a day. For more information on the company tackling a shortage of water around the globe visit the JPost

    • 5)     The Ocean Cleanup is Successfully Gathering Trash in the Pacific Ocean:

    This story comes out of the Netherlands and is the most recently updated story on this list. If you haven’t heard of The Ocean Cleanup it is worth following. The group was founded in 2013 with a goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using drifting systems and the ocean currents. The devices drift along the currents and collect plastic, and would just need to be “harvested” for their contents every few months by a small fleet of ships. In early October of this year they announced that the most recent prototype launched in June was successful in collecting and retaining both visible plastics and microplastics as small as 1mm. They still have much work to do in improving their design and growing their fleet, but once fully functional they hope to reduce the size of the garbage patch by half within the first 5 years! Obviously there is much to be done when it comes to cleaning up our oceans, but with companies like The Ocean Cleanup we are moving in the right direction. To learn more about the group, their design, and its sustainability check out their website at TheOceanCleanup.

    This blog was written by Tyler Eldridge, a Wastewater Laboratory Coordinator for the City of Greeley, and volunteers with RMWQAA as the main contact for website related issues. He has 3 years of experience in the industry and holds a BA in Biological Science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

    Full Website Links:

  • 26 Sep 2019 9:00 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) are not only a rapidly growing environmental and health concern but are increasingly being broadcasted in the news and raising public concerns. Hearing about a resident or pet’s health issues from a local lake can make you ask yourself, could this happen in my city’s local body of water and am I prepared to resolve the issue?

    Finding solutions to drinking water problems caused by algae is an ongoing challenge to the water industry from taste and odor, to filter clogging Diatoms, to harmful algal blooms of toxin-producing cyanobacteria. There is a widespread belief that the frequency and severity of surface water impairment by algae is increasing due to human impact, leading to higher nutrient levels in-stream and increased eutrophication. Algae may also be linked to droughts and the result of climate change. In addition to drinking water quality, there are growing concerns for lake and reservoir ecosystems.

    The EPA and CDPHE are moving in the direction of additionally creating more recreational guidelines and regulations to monitor concentrations of certain blue green algae, mainly Cylindrospermopsin, Anotoxin-A, and Microsystins. Dependent on whether the body of water must meet swimming standards or recreational standards, there are different guidelines for criteria excursions.

    The Environmental Protection Agency recommends the criteria in Table 1, but it is up to individual states to adopt these criteria. Table 2 summarizes the World Health Organization’s recreational guidance and action levels.

    Table 1: Recommended recreational criteria and swimming advisory criteria. Swimming advisory not to exceed on any day and recreation criteria not to exceed more than 10 percent of days per recreational season.



    8 ug/l

    15 ug/l

    Table 2: WHO recreational guidelines.

    Relative probability of Acute Health Effects

    Cyanobacteria (cells/mL)

    Chlorophyll a (ug/L)

    Estimated Microcystin Levels (ug/L




    < 10



    10 - 50

    10 – 20


    >100,000 – 10,000,000

    50 – 5,00

    20 – 2,000

    Very High




    If these numbers indicate a potential risk or vulnerability of HABs, it is recommended that your organization start implementing or update a proactive plan or SOP to monitor local lakes. This can be done in conjunction with local Parks Departments and/or water utilities department members. Monitor and set levels of concentrations at which potential risk for relative probability of acute health effects could affect the public. Look at modifying warning signs to prevent public contamination, research treatment options, and identify species with the CDPHE lab or a private lab to know for certain what you are dealing with. Check out CDPHE’s “Algae bloom risk-management toolkit for recreational waters” for more help in managing risk.

    There are options for treatment and monitoring that are becoming more advanced but also expensive. Chemical treatment has always been an option but is a recurring expense that might cause more harm to the ecological environment and potentially a temporary release of toxins depending on chemical solutions and concentrations. The addition of dissolved oxygen through blowers, aerators or mixers are all treatment options but also could come with energy costs. Ultrasonic treatment is another option but is depended on surface area of the body of water.

    Ultimately, it is a growing issue of concern, like all other emerging contaminants like TENORM and PFAS that needs more research and technology to mitigate the issue and understand prevention of toxin production, monitoring and identifying strategies and possible treatment options for the goal of public health and safety.

    John Winterton works for the City of Northglenn as the Laboratory Supervisor. He's been with Northglenn for 3.5 years for lab and operations but recently moved to his current position. Prior to that, he worked as a lab technician for the Chicago land area for 5 years. He holds a Class A wastewater license in Colorado and a Class B Water for Illinois. John is not an expert in the field of HABs and identifying algae species, but he has taken on the topic as it has been a growing concern in Northglenn and statewide.


    CDPHE Algae Bloom Risk-Management Toolkit

    EPA Recommendations for Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxin Monitoring in Recreational Waters

  • 27 Aug 2019 6:00 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Have you ever judged a science fair? Science fairs are held on levels from individual school fairs up to the state science fair.  I have been volunteering for several years now and I am always amazed at the ideas many young scientists are developing.  Science fair participants are budding young scientists and as a judge you can help them to improve their scientific method and investigative skills. Inspire them to be better researchers and problem solvers.

    There is also an exchange of inspiration.  These are not the typical solar system model, lava volcano science fair projects that were presented in the days of old.  Many students are aware of issues we deal with in the world around us and they are looking for solutions.  Some of the projects from this year include:

    • Development of imaging tools used for medical diagnosis, faster MRI scanning;
    • A computer aided surgical tool for precision spinal surgery;
    • Studying the effects of antibiotics consumed by humans on resistance of E. coli in water systems.

    Participant’s passion is displayed when they are explaining their projects.  The reward of seeing the twinkle in their eye, even when they know you don’t grasp all the information they are presenting.  A lot of time and energy are invested in the research for these projects and science fairs are not possible without judges. 

    The new school year has started, and science fair season will begin soon as well.  If you have the opportunity, judge a science fair and share in fostering the next generation of scientists. 

    By Adele Rucker

  • 26 Jul 2019 8:16 AM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Has this situation ever happened to you in your lab?

    Something goes wrong with a test, so you order a new chemical and the new chemical fixes the problem. You are happy your problem is fixed, but you are stuck with a batch of chemical that you don’t want to keep around in your lab since it may have been the source of the problem. You decide to dispose of it, but when you pull out your Safety Data Sheet (SDS), under disposal considerations, it says: “Dispose of in accordance with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations.” You think, what the heck does that mean? Where do I go to track down this information? You are stuck holding on to a bottle of chemical that you are 95% sure can go into the trash but you want to do things correctly for the environment and follow all the rules. What do you do?

    I went to a few different places to scope it out. I started on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website and checked out their SDS page.  There I learned that the disposal considerations section is listed as “Non-Mandatory”. Huh? I guess proper disposal isn’t so important. In fact, sections on regulatory, transport, and ecological information are also non-mandatory. Sorry little fishes and other creatures of the world. That isn’t to say that disposal doesn’t matter to OSHA, they still have high expectations that hazardous materials are properly disposed of. Upon further reading, the reason they don’t enforce disposal is because other agencies enforce it and someone else has it covered.

    Who is that someone else?   How do you know what jurisdiction disposal falls under? Well, that’s a good question. The American Veterinary Medical Association explained waste regulation the best, “Simply put, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the disposal of products with environmental impact; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates factors associated with potential employee exposure to hazardous substances; the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides guidance pertaining to products used in the workplace that impact human and public health; and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) regulates the disposal of controlled substances.” That’s a lot of regulators!

    Despite all these agencies involvement, ultimately proper disposal is up to the disposer. So how do you figure out what to do? I eventually stumbled upon a citation for an actual list of regulated hazardous waste listed in the Code of Federal Regulations. In 40 CFR § 261 Subpart D lists out the categories of hazardous wastes, and within each category, the types of waste or the specific chemicals that are classified as hazardous. For the individual chemicals, the list includes the chemical name, hazardous waste classification number, CAS number, and information on why it is listed as hazardous (i.e. toxic, flammable, corrosive, etc…).

    Verification of your chemical on EPA’s list is not enough. In some cases, state regulations are more stringent than the EPA regulations, so you still need to check with your state to see if the compound is hazardous or not. All states should have some guidance on this. In Colorado, it is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s “Colorado Hazardous Waste Regulations, Part 261 Identification and Listing of Hazardous Waste”. Pages 84-105 have a similar list to the EPA’s where you can check to see if it is on the list.

    Even then it may not be enough. If you are planning on dumping the chemical down the drain, you will also need to check with your local wastewater treatment plant. If you are the local WWTP, hopefully you already know what is allowed down the drain and what isn’t. If not, check in with your pretreatment department to see what guidance document they have on waste disposal. You should also check with your solid waste provider. I had a hard time finding any info on hazardous waste disposal for Denver, but Denver actually has a customer technical assistance line that could likely answer some questions. 

    Unfortunately, the search for the appropriate disposal does not end here. Once you know whether you are dealing with hazardous or non-hazardous compounds, you still need to dispose of it properly. This is still a bit of a mystery to me. It appears non-hazardous waste can be disposed of in the trash, but I don’t know of that is 100% true. Some guidance mentioned that bottles should be rinsed and the label removed, but it didn’t sound like a must. I searched 40 CFR and CDPHE’s website for non-hazardous waste disposal and came up with nothing. I’m sure this information is out there. The search continues…

    If you have knowledge of more in depth instructions or information on waste disposal, please contact a RMWQAA board member, reply to this post, or start a discussion in the forum, so that our membership can be more informed. 

    Natalie Love is the Laboratory Director at GEI Consultants, Inc. GEI conducts Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) Testing, low-level nutrient analysis, and benthic macroinvertebrate identifications. She lives in Denver with her husband, 2 daughters, and mastiff.

  • 11 Jun 2019 8:36 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. ~ John F. Kennedy

    The Broomfield Wastewater Laboratory has been undergoing change for the past 4 months.  Several analysts have been promoted and assumed new duties. Even with the process working relatively smoothly, it took 4 months for the laboratory to be completely staffed. We were lucky that we had such dedicated and competent analysts that wanted to advance.  This process made me think about the importance of succession planning.

    So, what is succession planning?  It is a process designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization by creating a steady and reliable pipeline of talent that will meet its future needs in leadership and other key roles.

    In a laboratory it is important to train at least two analysts on the same procedure.  The procedure can be the primary duty of one analyst and the other analyst can be used for back-up. That way you have coverage for vacations and sick leave.  This is also beneficial when a person decides to quit or retire, because you aren’t left without someone who can step-up and fill the gap.

    It is the lab supervisor’s job to make their staff successful.  Don’t put roadblocks in their way.

    McKinsey said there are seven obstacles to successful talent management:

        1.    Senior managers don’t spend enough high-quality time on talent management

        2.    Organization is “siloed” and does not encourage constructive collaboration and sharing of resources

        3.    Line managers are not sufficiently committed to development of people’s capabilities and careers

        4.    Line managers are unwilling to differentiate their people as top-average and under-performers

        5.    Senior leaders are not sufficiently involved in shaping talent management strategy

        6.    Senior leaders do not align talent management strategy with business strategy

        7.    Line managers do not address under-performance effectively, even when chronic

    Take the time and look at your team and talk to them about their future plans.  Establish a process to start succession planning. Some stats to consider: 66% of senior managers hired from the outside usually fail within the first 18 months (Center for Creative Leadership); companies with a succession plan that results in an internal hire “are less likely to experience this negative effect on employee morale” (Making Transitions Work,” Canadian Center for Management Development)

    Lesa Julian has worked for the City and County of Broomfield for 28 years.  She is currently the Environmental Services Superintendent.

  • 25 May 2019 2:58 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    After bouncing around some ideas for this month’s RMWQAA blog, I decided that what I wanted to do was to present some good local news in the water field. So I poked around a little bit, found some tidbits of good water news from the Rocky Mountain area, and decided to share.

    A disclaimer: Since good news, very much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, these represent good news in my own personal opinion.

    #1: 2019 is a very good year for snowfall!

    There are a slew of different snow pack estimates out there, but the general consensus is that this year’s runoff could lift Colorado out of drought, at least for now.  This oft referred to SNOTEL map from the USDA shows that the total Colorado Snow Water Equivalent is 240% of median (on 5/23/2019).

    Of course, the actual amount of usable water depends on factors such as temperature, runoff, and evaporation. However, the United States Drought Monitor, which had estimated that 77% of Colorado was experiencing drought conditions as late as July 2018, earlier this month estimated that less than 1% of the state is classified as being in drought conditions.

    This is also very good news for New Mexico, where predictions of flow into Elephant Butte Lake (one of the major agricultural reservoirs for southern New Mexico, and fed by Colorado’s Upper Rio Grande Basin) are at 155% of average. That is compared to 13% of average last year. This bodes well for water use and storage for all other states downstream from Colorado too.

    #2: There was a new Colorado River drought plan signed on May 19

    Speaking of states downstream from Colorado, all seven states (CO, NM, CA, AZ, WY, NV, and UT) in the Colorado River compact and the federal government have signed an agreement to keep Lake Powell and Lake Mead (the two largest reservoirs in the US) from being depleted. Under the agreement, water deliveries would be reduced to states based on varying water levels in the reservoirs.

    This is not a perfect agreement, but it does mention the future need to adjust for global warming and the likely scenario that future water allocations may be curtailed by 15-35%. So, progress.

    #3: Colorado is pushing back against lax Clean Water Act (CWA) protections

    Moving on from water quantity to water quality.

    Colorado’s Attorney General has called for a halt to proposed new USEPA rules that dismantle key parts of the CWA and remove important wetland and headwater protections in Colorado. These new rules would leave thousands of miles of Colorado waters without protections.

    Colorado is making a stand by showing that what happens in their headwaters affects everyone downstream and is fighting for clean water for fishing, recreation (which are both important economic considerations), and animal habitat.

    Colorado is one of a group of states urging the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (who administer the CWA) not to use the new, looser guidelines.

    #4: Local water conservation taxes passed

    This goes back to the 2018 November elections, but I was unaware that while state tax proposals for infrastructure and education failed (indicating a general anti-tax bias in Colorado), local water conservation taxes in Denver, Eagle, Chaffee, and Park counties passed. These local tax successes were the result of lots of groundwork - including input from local shareholders - and indicate that voters will agree to increased taxes if there is a direct need and there is a sound and fair plan for spending the money.

    Hopefully this local approval of tax-based water conservation projects bodes well for funding the Colorado Water Plan (CWP), which may be offered as a ballot measure in 2020. The CWP is a huge statewide initiative that would fund new water projects, protect stream quality and aquatic life, implement conservation programs, protect agriculture, and keep up with increased demand. The estimated cost will be about $100,000,000 per year for 20 years. If offered as a ballot issue, it will be the biggest direct water issue ever put in front of Colorado voters.

    I know that for water professionals there isn’t always a lot of good news right in front of us. Look for and appreciate the good news that is out there!

    Rich MacAlpine, whose opinions here are solely his own, is currently a Laboratory Supervisor at Metro Wastewater Reclamation District

  • 20 Apr 2019 2:21 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    On March 21st, members of the RMWEA/RMSAWWA Lab Practices
    Committee(LPC) and RMWQAA toured the wastewater treatment plant at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Waterton Canyon located in Littleton, Colorado. This treatment plant serves the 6200-acre facility with a rich history of industrial use. The site was first constructed in the mid 1950’s to build the Titan I intercontinental ballistic missile. Since the initial build, the company had experienced several mergers and different focuses and has been known as Lockheed Martin since 1997. 

    Over the years, the plant has manufactured hundreds of rockets designed to carry missiles, and communications satellites into space.  Crafts such as the Titan, Gemini, Viking, Voyager, and Cassini were all built at the Waterton Canyon facility.  Waterton Canyon was chosen specifically because the natural geology of the area provided more security and noise control than other sites.  In fact, the location tops a 1,700-foot-deep bedrock formation that isolates it from even the smallest seismic movement and provides the ultimate environment for testing the stability of various systems.

    Early years of rocket launch testing contaminated the soil and groundwater with rocket fuel and manufacturing chemicals.  The EPA declared it a Superfund site in 1989, however, this designation was soon removed.  Initial clean-up efforts included removal of contaminated soil, wells, and solid waste.  Decades later the main contaminant remaining in the groundwater is N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which is a breakdown product of hydrazine rocket fuel. Lockheed’s industrial wastewater treatment plant is responsible for treating the groundwater as well as production waste from space component manufacturing processes.  Domestic waste is collected and piped to South Platte Water Renewal Partners (previously known as Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant) where it is treated and discharged into segment 6a of the South Platte River.

    The NDMA contaminated groundwater treatment has been going on continually for the past 20 years. Luckily, the geography of the area funnels groundwater into two main channels making it easy to reclaim all of it for treatment.  NDMA is treated via UV Photolysis where it’s degraded using high levels of UV irradiation.  The Nitrogen bonds are broken leaving NO and (CH3-N=CH2).  The NO then gets oxidized into nitrite and then nitrate.  The dimethylamine oxidizes to form bicarbonate.  The UV bulbs are similar to the bulbs used in domestic wastewater plants, but instead of having a group of bulbs in a grid, only one very high-powered bulb is used. 

    Initial levels of NDMA in the groundwater were around 300 ppb. After 20 years of continual treatment, the levels have dropped to about half, and through treatment, they are able to meet their permit limit for NDMA.

    Other waste streams contain high levels of chromium and zinc from manufacturing or washing processes.  Aluminum is etched off of casings of crafts to minimize the weight and fuel it takes to launch.  Chromium plating is used to prevent oxidation.  The metals are treated using hydroxide precipitation, followed by polymer flocculation. The sludge is then dewatered with a sludge press and dried for disposal. The final effluent water goes through sand filtration, Nitrite oxidation, carbon feed, granular activated carbon (GAC), ion exchange, and final pH adjustment.  

    The industrial wastewater treatment plant discharges just upstream of Chatfield Reservoir, which requires discharges to meet stringent fishery, recreation, and drinking water standards outlined in Control Regulation Reg 73 that can be found here:    https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/73_2009%2803%29header.pdf   

    Lockheed Martin hasn’t had a permit violation for decades and has actively participated in the Chatfield Watershed Authority. The tour was very informative and interesting.  Although we didn’t get to tour any of the rest of the top-secret, high-security site, we did see the hillside that they once launched rockets into as well as a peek at the new $350 million dollar Gateway Center right next door to the plant.  You can read more about that here:  https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/capabilities/space/gateway-center.html

    Michelle Neilson, Water Quality Technician, has been with Metro Wastewater for 8.5 years.  She has a B.S. in Chemistry, and has 19 years of experience in the Environmental field.  Michelle has worked for USGS, contract laboratories, and several municipal wastewater and drinking water labs prior to Metro Wastewater.

  • 21 Mar 2019 10:18 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    PFASs or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances have become a growing concern over the last decade due to widespread use and persistence in the environment and in the human body. According to the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. The most common types of PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), however, there are many other forms which are not studied as well and used throughout the world.  They can be found in non-stick cookware, water repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foams, and products resistant to grease, water, and oil. The widespread production and use of PFAS contributes to its ubiquity not only in the environment, but also leads to its accumulation and persistence in the human body.

    Environmental exposure to PFAS could occur through multiple methods from contact with the manufacturing process, usage, and disposal of PFAS products. For example, surface water or groundwater and the surrounding soil becoming contaminated after receiving run-off in areas where firefighting foam was used. According to the EPA, human exposure can occur through daily usage of popular consumer products such as cookware, stain repellants, and even pizza boxes. A major concern with PFAS exposure is its persistence and ability to stay in the environment and in living organisms for a long period of time. As a result of repeated exposure, the amount of chemical in the bodies of humans and animals alike can accumulate and lead to adverse health effects.

    Researchers have been studying the adverse health effects in animal models to better understand how these chemicals cause toxicity and what organ systems are being affected. Studies indicate that the PFAS can disrupt endocrine activity, reduce immune function, and can cause adverse effects on multiple organs including the liver, kidneys, and pancreas (NIH, 2019). Epidemiological studies with humans, though limited, have shown an increase in cholesterol levels, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption (EPA, 2019). Although more research is needed to fully understand the health risks and impacts of PFAS, actions have been taken to limit the exposure to these chemicals.

    The EPA lowered the non-binding health advisory limit for some PFAS compounds found in public water systems. However, because of the growing concern that these chemicals may cause adverse effects to human health at lower levels, further action was taken to reduce exposure in some states. In Fountain, Colorado, the EPA announced the first-ever comprehensive nationwide PFAS action plan. The plan consists of expanding PFAS monitoring in the environment, enhancing scientific research for addressing PFAS by developing new analytical methods and tools, and clarifying clean up strategies. Furthermore, two chemical classes of PFAS have been phased out of industry in the United States, PFOA and PFOS, and the EPA is working to list these chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund Program (ATSDR, 2018). Future strategies and regulations include recommendations in the clean-up of the persisting PFOA and PFOS levels in groundwater and expanding limitations to other chemical classes of PFAS.


    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2018 January 10). Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and your health. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/overview.html

    Brady, J., Hurdle, J. Phillips, S. (2019 February 14). EPA says it plans to limit toxic PFAS chemicals, but not soon enough for critics. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/02/14/694660716/epa-says-it-will-regulate-toxic-pfas-chemicals-but-not-soon-enough-for-critics

    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (2019, March 8). Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc/index.cfm

    United States Environmental Protection Agency (2019 February 13). News release: EPA to announce first-ever comprehensive nationwide PFAS action plan in Fountain, Colorado. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announce-first-ever-comprehensive-nationwide-pfas-action-plan-fountain-colorado

    United States Environmental Protection Agency. Basic Information on PFAS. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas#main-content

    Ashley Romero is the Laboratory Manager at GEI Consultants, Inc. and has a background in ecotoxicology.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software