Intern Blog: Testing Water Samples at Deer Island
I recently got the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at how water samples from CRWA’s monthly monitoring program are tested. Even though it was a chilly 20 degrees on the day of sampling, dedicated volunteers went out early in the morning to collect water from the river and deliver the samples to CRWA. Once at the office, the sample bottles were packed in ice to keep them fresh on their journey to the lab at Deer Island.
Located in Winthrop, Deer Island is the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s (MWRA) wastewater treatment facility (www.mwra.com). The plant processes wastewater for 43 communities in greater Boston. In addition to testing CRWA’s samples, the Deer Island lab also provides daily monitoring of the water, effluent, and sediment in Massachusetts Bay to assess the impact of the facility’s discharge to a deep water section of the Bay. The lab also evaluates the health of fish and shellfish in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays which necessitates adherence to FDA standards.
Deer Island is an amazing complex. Approaching the checkpoint for admittance, I could see the beautiful expanse of Massachusetts Bay on the right. On the left, turbines were spinning and 150-feet tall, egg- shaped digesters were working on breaking down sludge from wastewater into methane, CO2, water, and organics. The facility aims to produce very little waste and much of this methane output is utilized as an energy source for the plant. Various signs along the entrance to the facility indicate that there are scenic walking areas to be enjoyed by visitors. Other plaques explain some of the rich history of this site as a quarantine station for immigrants, and as a hospital and prison.
As soon as I arrived at the lab, Jonathan Brody, CRWA’s contact at Deer Island, wheeled CRWA’s ice chest to its first stop where the water samples were removed and the date and time of arrival recorded. The water was then taken to the Central Lab and mixed with Colielert-18, a reagent that is used to identify the presence of E.coli. This bacteria indicates contamination in the water from human or animal waste. Using long pipettes to draw the water out of CRWA’s plastic bottles, the lab staff inserted the samples into what look like very shallow ice trays. The back of these trays are then completely sealed with a plastic coating. Lab supervisor, Laura Ducott, explained that the trays need an incubation period in the refrigerator for about 18 hours. At that point, the trays are observed under UV light. Laura placed other samples that were fully incubated under the light to demonstrate the presence of a bright fluorescent color. This color change is the indication that E. coli is present.
|Lab staff at work|
The staff at Deer Island were generous with their time and even shared some of their impressions of the Charles River. Jonathan says the Charles has been a staple in his life, providing wonderful memories from his days growing up in the Boston area, including 4th of July celebrations. He was so struck by the beauty of the Charles one day as he was riding the T near the Salt and Pepper Bridge, that he wrote a song about it!
Thank you to all of the staff at the Lab who were so generous with their time and who work so hard to help monitor the health of the Charles River. You can see the data MWRA collects for the Charles River at: www.mwra.state.ma.us/harbor/html/cr_wq.htm
|Lab staff sorting CRWA water samples|