24 April, 2011

an Easter Rant about cars, poo & wee, diarrhea & vomitting

Apparently up to six people will read this rant, if I am lucky. Well, six people will look at this rant. I have seen the statistics, my blog is not very popular. So my blog has become my confessional.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. This week, I drove a car.

I have given up trying to save the world......It is not my world to save.

However, I have also given up working in the fossil fuels industry.

I once provided Environmental management services to petroleum refineries. I am now a card carrying member of petroleum anonymous....

Up until this week, I could say:

My name is Rowan Barber, I am a petroleum addict, it has been six years since I last drove a car.

......but I have fallen off (or on) the wagon. Last week, I was required to drive a car as part of my new responsibilities, working for a water utility.

It gets worse.

I have taken on a job as an inspector, supervising the installation, renovation &/or repairs to sewers & water mains.

In the past couple of weeks, I have seen first hand - how silly we all are.

We take our Number 1's (also known as urine) & we mix it with vast quantities of drinking water & our Number 2's (also knowns as faeces). This slurry is gravity feed and/or pumped over vast distances (predominantly using coal fired electricity) to sewage treatment plants.

At the sewage treatment plants, we (as a society at Municipality level) spend vast sums of money, time & electricity, separating our Number 1's from our Number 2's and the water (which is no longer drinking water quality).

We (Ratepayers & Taxpayers) have built a vast network of pipes & pumps to move our mixture of poo, wee, water & industrial waste across 100's of kilometres.

Many of these pipes leak.

The slurry of substances in sewage is highly toxic & choc full of human specific pathogens.

This is not wise.

During the floods in South East Queensland in January 2011, (in my view) the system completely failed. Our sewers were inundated with flood water. Many pump stations & sewage treatment plants were also inundated with flood water.

The untreated sewage mixed with flood water & mud, was distributed in and through our low-lying suburbs.

The mud (erosion of topsoil from places like the Grantham, Toowoomba and all the upper catchment areas of the Bremer & Brisbane Rivers), became a nutrient rich matrix for cultivating human specific infectious diseases.

During the peak of the flood (12 January 2011), our former Prime Minister - Kevin Rudd was out wading through floodwaters, assisting to evacuate his electorate. On the 15 January 2011, he was admitted to hospital with some sort of foot infection.

Months later, there is still anecdotal evidence of an epidemic of diarrhea & vomiting, which may have begun from flood water to human transmissions. These illnesses appear to be persisting through human to human transmissions (at Child Care centres, schools & workplaces etc).

As I write this blog post at 4:00 am on Sunday 24 April 2011, I have been up all night looking after my 20 month old daughter.

She has a fever. She has been vomiting. Her poos are liquid. She wakes up coughing. This is her third episode of this kind of illness since January.

She is going to be ok. We have paracetomol to reduce her fevers. We have been able to keep her hydrated & re-hydrated. She is still getting some food & formula and holding it down (or in) long enough for her little body to take in some nutrients.

According to Water Aid,

"Diarrhoeal diseases kill a child every 20 seconds."

So as the carbon tax rages around me in Australia, every 20 seconds a child (like my daughter), dies from easily preventable diseases.

In many developing communities, they poo & wee on the streets. They do not have toilets. Flies, rats, dust, wind & rain transfer human pathogens directly or indirectly from poo to people.

In my own community, we are sophisticated. We poo in toilets. We mix in our wee & we flush it away with lots of water. We all know about Carbon Dioxide now. Some of us deny the impacts. Some of us ignore the consequences, but how many people actually know where their poo goes?

Here is a song I wrote a few years ago, to the tune of the Beach Boy's song - Surfin' USA.

I wrote this song in frustration, at the stupidity of what we do as a society & as municipalities in Australia. In Brisbane we have $7 billion worth of water recycling infrastucture (pipes, pumps, plants) which is sitting idle, because we do not recycle our sewage. We are still discharging tertiary treated sewage back into our creeks, rivers & oceans. When it rains or floods, we discharge untreated sewage back into our creeks, rivers & oceans.

Well everybody did a motion,
Across the U.S.E*....
& it all ends up in the ocean,
We're surfing poo & wee,
You’d see em flushing the toliet
mixing their ones & twos
flushin with potable water,
Surfin wee & poo

Sewage has primary treatment,
To remove the chunks that stink,
By the time its tertiary treated,
It could be fit to drink....
All that embodied energy,
Embodied water too...
Would it not be better to separate our ones & twos?

You see the deep outfalls at Bondi
& discharged at Potter Point
Sepia Depression & Bolivar
Sandgate & Luggage Point
All over Port Phillip Bay
& Gunnamatta Beach

Everybodys gone surfin
Surfin wee & poo

We all mix our wee & poo,
We’re gonna flush real soon
We’re flushing down our faeces
We just waste our poo
We could be growing our veges
We could be growing a tree
Tell Jack Sim were surfin
Surfin poo & wee

Gibson Island desal plant
is keeping Incitec cool
they waste the Nitrogen & phosphorus
then burn the fossil fuel
All over Australia
We mix our ones & twos
Everybodys gone surfin
Surfin wee & poo

Everybodys gone surfin
Surfin wee & poo.

Everybodys gone surfin
Surfin wee & poo

*United States of emergency


  1. Please note:

    One's Number 1's contain most of the nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus and traces nutrients like potassium. There are not many pathogens in wee (unless one has a urinary tract infection).

    Phosphorus is essential for agriculture & we are running out of the stuff. Most phosphorous used in agriculture is mined from ancient deposits of bird or bat wee.

    The Number 2's contain mainly carbonaceous materials and is choc full of pathogens.

    If we separated our ones & twos, we would not need expensive & energy intensive biological nutrient removal processes at sewage treatment plants.

  2. Thank you for sharing. Nutrient removal and recovery solves two problems by reducing nutrient contamination and recovering nutrients for reuse as a fertilizer.