June 6, 2016

The New Alchemy

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Conjure this: the sewage plants of the past will become the power plants of the future. Plant operators will be the modern Merlins turning waste into energy and pollutants into revenue-producing resources. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s happening now. Exhibit A: On May 25 the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) officially opened the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility at the world’s largest sewage plant — the Stickney plant — in Cicero, IL. In partnership with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, MWRD built and will operate the facility to remove phosphorus from the wastewater stream and convert it to a slow-release fertilizer that can be sold. When fully operational, the District may produce up to 10,000 tons a year of Crystal Green® pellets and may derive $1-2 million in revenue.

Nutrient pollution in waterways — principally phosphorus and nitrogen — is a dramatic and growing problem. Much of the phosphorus and nitrogen comes from fertilizer runoff from farms and lawns but some also comes from the waste stream discharged from sewage plants. (Because fertilizer is used so heavily in agriculture, phosphorus is in many of the foods we eat — cheese, salmon, Coca-cola, etc. — and thus is in our human waste.) Phosphorus in waterways causes algae to grow; algae blooms consume oxygen, leaving none for fish and other aquatic life. It’s a vicious cycle.

The MWRD’s nutrient recovery facility will greatly reduce its nutrient effluent load to the Chicago/Calumet river system, upstream of the Mississippi River basin and will reduce the nutrient loading in the Gulf of Mexico.

Turning pollutant into profit? Vicious cycle into virtuous cycle? Even the Chicago Tribune had nice things to say about this! It’s the new alchemy, and it’s happening here and now.


MWRD Makes It Easier to Ditch Your Unused Meds —
Safely and Securely

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I want you to stop in and see the snazzy new, bright blue drug collection box the MWRD installed in the lobby of our headquarters building at 100 E. Erie Street in Chicago. And when you come, bring a Baggie filled with unused and expired meds that have been accumulating at home because you didn’t know how to dispose of them safely. Now you can.

And if downtown Chicago is not convenient, the District has installed similar boxes at the entry gatehouses at three large treatment plants in Cicero (6001 W. Pershing Road), Chicago (400 E. 130th Street) and Skokie (3500 Howard Street). You can drop off your unused or expired meds seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the plants and Monday through Friday at the headquarters building.

Why use drug collection boxes instead of just tossing old meds in the trash or flushing them down the toilet? Because the sewage treatment process cannot remove pharmaceuticals in the waste stream. Whatever is flushed down the toilet (and what our bodies excrete) will end up in our drinking water or rivers and streams. Similarly, rainfall causes chemical compounds in landfill to dissolve and the liquid waste stream, called leachate, is conveyed to sewage plants to be treated, where the pharmaceutical compounds cannot be removed.

It’s also important to dispose of drugs properly so they don’t accumulate at home and become a risk to seniors, who may inadvertently mix different medicines, and to teens and young adults rifling through medicine cabinets.

I’m proud that the MWRD has taken this significant step to try to make safe, secure disposal options more convenient for Cook County residents. (The collected meds are sent to an EPA-approved incinerator where they are safely destroyed.) There’s much more to be done to expand collection sites throughout Cook County, which is why I am enthusiastically supporting a measure introduced to the Cook County Board to do that. We hope that ordinance will come up for consideration soon and I will be sure to let you know about that.


Summer Solstice Celebration Approaches —
Donald Trump Makes an Appearance!

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Many of you know that I host an annual summer solstice celebration as a fundraiser for my campaign fund. This year the date is Thursday, June 16 and it is going to be historic. Pat Whalen, Chicago’s own late-night talk show host, will MC and, I kid you not, Donald Trump has agreed to make an appearance. Well, some sort of an appearance. You’ve got to join us!

  • When: Thursday, June 16
  • Where: Erie Café, 536 W. Erie (where Erie St. meets the Chicago River)
  • Time: 5:30–7 p.m.
  • Why: Support my work at the MWRD — it’s my annual campaign event!
  • How: Click here