Your Monthly Bill – July 2010

A Tour Not to Be Forgotten: The Tybee Sewage Treatment Facility

By Bill Gillespie

by Bill Gillespie

Do you know where our waste goes when we flush our toilets? Do you know how it is treated and disposed of safely? I do now — thanks to George Reese and Gary Campbell from the City of Tybee’s Sewage Treatment Facility, on Polk Street, North Beach. They were great hosts and tour guides, and I found the visit extremely informative and interesting.

Are you wondering why am I writing about this? Well, I wanted to tell the citizenry about the great progress that has been made by the City through treatment facility improvements and upgrades, but more importantly, to assure folks that recent and past North Beach closures are not tied to human fecal coliforms from the City’s waste treatment facility.

The Tybee Sewage Treatment Facility goes through rigorous state compliance inspections, and has the necessary credentialed and certified operators.

The Tybee Facility is well maintained, modern, and includes updated monitoring software and brand new odor containment measures. The bad smell sometimes observed over the past year has been almost eliminated. A new smell containment housing removes sulfur-containing compounds, as well as the inorganic gas, hydrogen sulfide, which cause the nasty smells. The neighbors are most appreciative of the new addition. The objective of the sewage treatment facility is to collect our waste and produce a disposable effluent without causing trouble or harm to the natural or human environment. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.

Our waste is pumped to the Polk Street facility where it is treated and processed. Solid waste is broken down naturally by aeration, filtration, settling, and bacteria. Visually, the river of churning waste, waterfalls and settling ponds are a little like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate River, but not. After several cycles, the water is filtered through ultraviolet (UV) light to kill any remaining harmful bacteria. Bio-solids – called “sludge” are removed from the waste water, oven dried, and then taken to the County Landfill.

Ultraviolet light is used instead of chlorine, iodine, or other chemicals to kill the bacteria and other harmful pathogens. Because no chemicals are used, the treated water has no adverse effect on organisms that later consume it, as may be the case with chemical treatment methods. UV radiation causes damage to the genetic structure of bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens, making them incapable of reproduction.

The treated water is monitored and quality controlled prior to its final release in to the Savannah River. The State Board of Examiners for the Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Laboratory Analysts inspects the facility and personnel. The State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) routinely check the water, normally weekly at a minimum.

No current records link any of the North Beach closures to the Treatment Plant. The City of Tybee is working with DNR and EPD to identity the real beach closure problems, i.e. bird waste (really), failing Savannah River area septic tanks, ship waste release, or other. Tybee obtained a grant for further study and testing, so more information will be forthcoming.

So next time you flush the toilet, think about the wonderful process of waste removal. Be proud of your up-to-date treatment facility, and the fact that you probably do not smell it anymore! And finally, think twice before you flush anything other than TP, or waste.

You’ll be doing your community a big favor! The system was not designed for trash, diapers, rags,
prescription medicine, paint and chemicals.

Happy flushes!


You may contact Bill Gillespie at

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2 Responses to “Your Monthly Bill – July 2010”
  1. Hans says:

    Toward the end of his career Napoleon Bonaparte stated that the greatest achievement of this life was the construction of Paris’s sewer system. Sewers are huge, complex infrastructure systems that provide a valuable public service. Hats off to George Reese, Gary Campbell, and other staff at the Tybee Sewage Treatment Facility.

    That said, it is always possible to tweak the system.

    I could not help but notice that on the weekend of Oct. 2-3 the Polk St. facility was making quite a bad smell. The whole neighborhood could detect it. I wonder of the odor control systems are fully and consistently operational (especially on weekends?)

    It would be great to put a visual screen of greenery in front of the facility. When walking to the beach at Polk St., the facility is very prominent, and that is a bit of a turn-off. Even if one is not actually swimming in effluent, the facility’s sign does bring such an image to mind.

    If there is any more information about Tybee’s grant to study North Beach closures, that would be great. Who will conduct the study, and what will consist of? (Water chemistry? GIS inventory of septic systems? Review of shipping records?)

    Great article with lots of facts. Many thanks to Bill Gillespie.

  2. Editor says:

    Thanks so much for your comments, Hans.

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