WEF's membership newsletter covers current Federation activities, Member Association news, and items of concern to the water quality field. WEF Highlights is your source for the most up-to-the-minute WEF news and member information.

November 2011, Vol. 48, No. 9

Top Story

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby — or Have We?
Women engineers cite “workplace climate” as key factor in decision to leave

For Nadya Fouad and Romila Singh, the numbers didn’t add up. After decades of work and millions of dollars spent by the National Science Foundation and the nation's universities to boost the number of women earning engineering degrees, more than 20% of engineering school graduates now are female. But only 11% of today’s practicing engineers are female. What’s more, women leave the profession at four to five times the rate of men.

Fouad and Singh, professors at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UMW), wanted to find out why. With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, they tapped into the female engineering alumnae from 30 universities. The researchers suspected their questions might touch a raw nerve. But even they were taken aback by the deluge of responses and the passion of the women who were eager to share their experiences.

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From left, University of Wisconsin–Madison professors Romila Singh and Nadya Fouad performed a study that identified the reasons why female engineering alumnae leave the engineering profession. Photo courtesy of Alan Magayne-Roshak. Click for larger image.

“Women were writing to ask if they could send the survey to other women they know,” said Fouad, UWM distinguished professor of educational psychology. Soon, the survey had “gone viral.” By the time the results were tallied, more than 3700 women engineers from 260 schools had participated.  

Each had her own story to tell. “We had people who wrote pages and pages, including bullet points,” said Singh, UWM associate professor of business. “They told us horror stories about practices that are still going on. We received voice messages from women who cared deeply about their profession, even if they left it.”

“I don’t think it’s a topic they feel comfortable talking about at the office,” Fouad added. “These women don’t want to appear ‘whiny’ at work. They sometimes need an outlet like this to make their feelings about an issue known.”

What’s the restroom got to do with it?
One thing was clear: “Women are not simply leaving to have babies,” Singh said. “It is more complex than that.”

In fact, women who leave engineering jobs are significantly more likely to leave because of an uncomfortable work climate than because of family reasons, Fouad said.

Just what makes a work climate “uncomfortable”? One survey respondent told of arriving for her first day of work only to discover there was no women’s restroom on the floor. Another woman explained how her boss would check in with each team member every day. He always saved her, the lone female on the team, for last, which meant she rarely left the office before 9 p.m. each evening.

The boss might have not have been slighting this employee intentionally, Fouad said. “But there was also no one checking to make sure his management practices were equitable.”

Nearly half of survey respondents who left jobs said they did so because of poor working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement, or low salary. In comparison, one in four left to spend time with her family. (Respondents were allowed to give more than one reason.)

Perceptions that engineering work environments are inflexible and not supportive of women kept 15% of respondents from ever entering the field.

“It takes a significant investment, and rigorous training [is] needed to become an engineer,” Singh said. And that is on top of the millions of dollars that, for decades, has been spent [by the National Science Foundation and the nation's universities] to draw women into the pipeline. “If you think like a business, there’s not been a great return on that investment,” she said.

The large body of underutilized talent raises other concerns for Singh. The exodus of women signals a national security issue that is “ripe for a crisis,” she said. “This country today has technically challenging, safety- and security-related positions that are going unfilled,” she said. “Because of the security risks, we can’t hire foreign workers to fill them, and we’ve got this pool of homegrown talent that is going untapped.”
A wake-up call?
The survey results should be a wake-up call to the engineering community, Fouad said. “Unless organizations pay attention to the climate they’re creating, women will not only leave their current position, they will leave the profession.”

Not all women are unhappy, of course. Those content with their profession frequently had high praise for their bosses. “Our results showed that it made a huge difference if a woman engineer’s supervisor was supportive or not,” Fouad said.

“The women who were enjoying their careers spoke of the positive things their managers did,” Singh said. “They made expectations clear. These women knew what they needed to do to advance. They felt the organization was investing in their training and development.” These women also felt more comfortable taking advantage of policies that allowed them to balance their multiple roles at work and home.

“Anecdotal comments suggest that many employers have work-life policies to support women’s needs,” Fouad said. “But, in many cases, there was a stigma about using them.”

Fouad advises organizations to study their policies and learn which are used and which are not. “If an organization has policies that aren’t used, someone needs to find out if managers are discouraging people from using them,” she said.

For women engineers to effect change, they need to grow their numbers, Singh said. “Research shows that as the percentage of women in other industries has risen, those businesses’ cultures have grown more inclusive,” she said. “That’s when women start to see opportunities for mentoring and advancement. Women in engineering just don’t have the critical mass needed yet.”

And it won’t necessarily be easy to get there. Women, in at least some cases, can be their own worst enemies, fueling male managers’ unspoken biases. “Based on past experiences, managers may think twice about hiring women,” Fouad said. “‘She will be distracted and let you down,’ they might think.”

Stemming the tide
Singh and Fouad hope their upcoming research might help reverse the trend.

The two UWM researchers will continue to follow the original group of women and their careers in upcoming research. But they also are going a step further. “We want to flip the question around and learn more about the organizational factors that are most important in a woman’s decision to stay,” Singh said. “We also want to compare the experiences of men and women engineers.”

“Women’s careers evolve differently than men’s,” Singh said. “Women have many more on- and off-ramps that men’s careers don’t have. So we can’t really expect women’s reasons will transfer to men.”

“[But] if roles and expectations are vague, it can’t be good for anyone,” Fouad said. “The best work environments support not just men or women but all employees.”

“We gave women a safe place to tell their stories,” Singh said. “Now we want to do research that we can make actionable so some changes come out of it.”  

— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights
Bio Cremation™ Returns Bodies to the Environment
Process uses water-based chemical resolving process to reduce bodies to bone
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For those who like the idea of cremation but don’t like the emissions or energy use associated with traditional fire-based cremation, another “green” option now is available.

Alkaline hydrolysis reduces human bodies to bones
BIO Cremation™ is cremation through the water-based resolving process of alkaline hydrolysis. During the process, a human body is placed in a pressurized stainless steel chamber, where water and the alkali solution potassium hydroxide are added, and the temperature is raised to 177°C (350°F). The water and alkali solution, heat, and pressure combine to cause a chemical reaction that reduces a body to bones.

During the hydrolysis process, water molecules are forced between the chemical bonds holding together large tissue molecules, such as fats, DNA, and proteins, breaking tissue down to its original small molecular building blocks, according to Sandy Sullivan, founder and director of Resomation Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland), a company that produces the technology. This decomposition, which results in bones and liquid, takes anywhere from 5 to 25 years during normal burial but is accelerated to about 2 to 3 hours with BIO Cremation. 

©2010 — Matthews Cremation Division
The release process of the cremation remains after the alkaline hydrolysis process. Photo courtesy of Steven Schaal, Matthews Cremation. Click for larger images.

Traditional flame-based cremation, which reduces bodies to ash and bone fragments, also takes about 2 to 3 hours and requires catalysts of gas fuel and oxygen, resulting in air emissions.

Introducing the technology for use on humans in the United States
The technology behind the process has existed for many years. Primarily, it has been used to dispose of animals, but it also has been used on human bodies donated for research to the University of Florida, Gainesville, since 1998 and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., since 2005. 

Resomation Ltd. was formed in 2007 and began using the technology for human cremations commercially. In September 2008, Matthews International Cremation Division (Apopka, Fla.) became the exclusive supplier of the Resomation technology in the United States.

Since 2008, Matthews Cremation has been raising awareness about the technology, working to expand the definition of cremation to include the use of alkaline hydrolysis in addition to extreme heat, and making sure laws and local regulations are in place to accept use of the technology on humans and for public use, said Steven Schaal, president of the company's North America Region. So far, legislation that would allow use of the technology on humans has been passed in six states, is currently under consideration in three states, and will be introduced in 16 other states this year. The first commercial use of the technology occurred at the Anderson–McQueen Funeral Home (St. Petersburg, Fla.) on Oct. 7.

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Bio Cremation™ stainless steel chamber where alkaline hydrolysis reduces bodies to bones. Photo courtesy of Schaal, Matthews Cremation. Click for larger image.
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System components and operation
The system, which requires a 6-m × 9-m (20-ft × 30-ft) installation area, includes a stainless steel chamber, programmable logic control system, steam boiler, 1514-L (400-gal) insulated condensate tank, water softener for the boiler, and a 208-L (55-gal) drum that holds the potassium hydroxide. A pump in the system calculates and distributes the correct amount of potassium hydroxide and water needed based on the weight of the body, Schaal said.

To operate the system, someone has to load the body and use the control system to begin the process. A boiler system supplies steam that is circulated through a coil system to provide heat.

©2010 — Matthews Cremation Division
The technology is run by a programmable logic controller touch screen. Photo courtesy of Schaal, Matthews Cremation. Click for larger image. 

The system runs two cycles. The first is the alkaline hydrolysis process that reduces the body to bones, and the second rinses the bones so they are ready to be processed into ash. Also, depending on local acidity (pH) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) wastewater requirements, some systems may require installation of an accumulation tank that holds the effluent through both cycles of the system, Schaal said.  

Handling the effluent
The effluent produced by the process can have a high pH and BOD that may be of concern to local wastewater treatment utilities, Schaal said. By adding an accumulation tank to hold the effluent through both cycles before its to release to wastewater treatment, the volume helps lower the existing pH and BOD limits to acceptable levels. If the pH after the second cycle remains too high, adding citric acid to the effluent prior to release to treatment is another option, Schaal added. 

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©2010 — Matthews Cremation Division
The operating cycle of the BIO Cremation™ technology shows the process from start to finish. Photo courtesy of Schaal, Matthews Cremation. Click for larger image.  

After that, the effluent “just goes into treatment, it gets processed, and then basically what is appealing to environmentalists is that it goes back into the ecosystem, into streams or [an] aquifer or [as] nonpotable water,” Schaal said.

The system also could operate with the alkali solution sodium hydroxide, but the technology uses potassium hydroxide because “it doesn’t coagulate; it doesn’t become a solid” in the pipes, Schaal said. Also potassium hydroxide, which is commonly used to sterilize medical equipment, is not as corrosive as sodium hydroxide and will not harm pipes or plumbing systems, he added. 

BIO Cremation - AMQ Installation Small

Potassium hydroxide sterilizes the effluent, neutralizing pathogens and bacteria, and eliminating all DNA material, according to Schaal. “[It] sterilizes the effluent so there is no transfer of anything that is dangerous,” Schaal said. This also enables families to go through the normal processes of embalming bodies for viewing and visitation, because embalming fluid also is neutralized during the process.

Environmental benefits of the system and offering the green option in America
Overall, the system requires 30% to 40% less energy than traditional fire-based cremation to operate, Schaal said. And because nothing is burned during the process, there are no emissions and a 70% smaller carbon footprint, compared to fire-based cremation, he said.

The system was recently instaled at the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo courtesy of Schaal, Matthews Cremation. Click for larger image.
— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
From the President: Some Members Don’t Even Know It’s Included

In my first column after being given the honor of serving as president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), I wanted to highlight some of the tremendous WEF member benefits that I have come to find many don’t know about.

“It’s not free; it’s included” is a favorite saying in my family. My sons would always say that something is free, such as the “free” breakfast at a hotel or the “free” kayak rental at an all-inclusive resort. I always have had to remind them that such amenities are not actually free, but rather “included” as part of the basic charge.

This is similar within WEF: Extremely valuable member benefits are included in your membership. As I have traveled to more than 25 member association and WEFMAX meetings, I have been able to tell many local Member Association leaders and members about WEF programs and services of which they weren’t aware.  

Matt Bond
Matt Bond, 2011–2012 WEF President

Technical information and research
Most of you know that WEF is the leading global not-for-profit scientific and technical organization devoted to water issues and that a plethora of practical information is available at WEFTEC®, other conferences, and in WEF technical publications.

However, many members don’t know that essential technical information also is available directly through Access Water Knowledge at www.wef.org/awk. This resource provides searchable access to many articles, including past WEFTEC proceedings, as a member benefit; it is a great place to start research on a water or utility management topic. You also have online access from this page to the premier peer-reviewed research journal Water Environment Research as a subscription benefit. Additionally, each issue of the journal includes “open access” (no subscription required) to one research article.

Our committees are arguably our most important member benefit, because that is where the work of WEF happens. Our 33 knowledge and delivery committees, communities of practice, and councils consist of practitioners working on global and regional water and management issues in established and emerging subject areas.

WEF has been working for several years to remove the barriers to joining WEF committees and to establish links to Member Association committees with similar technical focuses as the WEF committees. As a member, you easily can access committee contacts and join committees through www.wef.org/committees. You also can contact your Member Association leaders for information about local committees.

Responding to and influencing regulations
Name a regulatory hot topic in water (nutrients, stormwater, wet weather flow management, etc.), and WEF is working on it. We are seen by regulatory agencies and Capitol Hill as an unbiased source of scientific and technical information on these issues, and we are increasing our effect by influencing effective regulations. Most of this work is enabled by WEF staff members who are experts in regulations and public policy and is coordinated by the WEF Government Affairs committee, subcommittees, and work groups. More information can be found at www.wef.org/governmentaffairs.

Wastewater Operations Resource Center
During the past 3 years, we have expanded our content for operator training and worked to encourage certification of wastewater treatment professionals. Access to online training, technical resources, and certification materials are provided at www.wef.org/OperationsResources.

Careers in water
Many government agencies are finding it hard to attract and retain new workers to their water utilities. WEF works in partnership with the American Water Works Association (Denver) to maintain www.workforwater.org, a one-stop location for information on careers in water. This website provides entry-level and second-career information for jobs in the water industry, covering such topics as recruitment/retention, job banks, management strategies, job descriptions, links to other water career resources, and more.

New professionals
WEF is a great place for new professionals in the industry to learn important technical and leadership skills and network with industry leaders. Our Student and Young Professionals Committee (SYPC) provides an excellent way to connect to opportunities, including the annual Young Professionals Summit and professional development activities at WEFTEC.

A key goal of SYPC is to get new professionals assimilated in the WEF committees and in contact with seasoned professionals. This information can be accessed through the WEF committees’ page. New professionals also should get involved in their Member Association Young Professionals committees for local opportunities.

Resources for Member Associations
The Member Association Resource Center provides tools for Member Association leaders, involvement opportunities, leadership and training resources, and much more.

Accessing the Web and WEF staff
As you can see, most of your valuable member benefits are accessible through www.wef.org. Some of information is password-protected for members only. If you have problems with accessing the website, please contact WEF’s Customer Service Center at csc@wef.org or (800) 666-0206; select menu option No. 1.

So, now you know more of what is included with your WEF membership. Much of the value is in tangible goods and services, but even more valuable is the access to our great volunteer network of water leaders and technical experts, in addition to our excellent staff. If you have any questions or want additional information, see the WEF staff directory or WEF contact information.  

— Matt Bond, 2011–2012 WEF President
Water-Sector Utilities Rally Around World Water Monitoring Day
WEF hosts D.C. event, and other organizations reach across the country for WWMD 2011
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Every year, World Water Monitoring Day (WWMD) inspires children and adults to protect the planet’s water resources. Groups from around the world use test kits to monitor local waterways and then submit their monitoring results, pictures, and stories to the WWMD website.

The international water monitoring initiative, coordinated by the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) in partnership with the International Water Association (IWA; London), is designed to increase global water awareness and encourage individuals to get directly involved in protecting their local waterways.

Students and organizations participate in D.C. event
On Sept. 19, approximately 200 students and 20 local environmental organizations participated in the fifth annual Washington, D.C., WWMD celebration, hosted by WEF and IWA at Hains Point in East Potomac Park.  

At the Washington, D.C. World Water Monitoring Day (WWMD) celebration, Dorn Sanders of the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) leads students through a water monitoring activity while WJLA (Arlington, Va.) Meteorologist Bob Ryan looks on. Photo courtesy of Allison O’Brien. Click for larger image.

The morning began with a short formal program featuring remarks from WEF President Jeanette Brown, IWA Development Program coordinator Frances Lucraft, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water senior policy advisor Ellen Gilinsky, and Alexandria (Va.) Sanitation Authority general manager Karen Pallansch.

Students from Imagine Hope Community Charter School (Washington, D.C.), St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School (Silver Spring, Md.), and J.C. Parks Elementary School (Indian Head, Md.) arrived at Hains Point after the formal program. The students then participated in various interactive educational activities and answered questions at various exhibits to earn stickers for their “passport.”  

Representatives from area environmental organizations, including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Coast Guard, Anacostia Watershed Society (Bladensburg, Md.), Alexandria (Va.) Environmental Policy Commission, and American Chemical Society (Washington, D.C.), led interactive exhibits that helped students explore the subject of water quality. In these exhibits, students handled live macroinvertebrates, tested the Potomac River’s water, learned how forests are related to water quality, played “Water Jeopardy,” and took part in surface-tension experiments. At the end of the celebration, students presented their stamped passports to receive a WWMD backpack, pencil, and activity book.

“I thoroughly enjoyed World Water Monitoring Day; it is so much fun to see the children’s eyes widen with excitement at life in our waters,” Cathy Wiss of the Washington, D.C.-area Audubon Naturalist Society said, referring to students’ reactions to the live crayfish featured at her display.

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Students examine live stream insects at the Audubon Naturalist Society display at the D.C. event. Photo courtesy of Allison O'Brien. Click for larger image.

Utilities hold WWMD events across the country
Even though WWMD officially is observed on Sept. 18 each year, people everywhere are encouraged to participate any day between March 22 and Dec. 31; and numerous water and wastewater utilities and companies have been doing just that. 

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The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has been busy organizing WWMD activities that reach hundreds of students. This year, McCall Middle School (Winchester, Mass.) was the first school to participate in MWRA’s WWMD activities, with 350 eighth-grade students on Sept. 22 and 380 sixth-graders on Sept. 23 monitoring the Aberjona River. MWRA also organized events for sixth-grade students to monitor the Mystic River, with 200 students from McGlynn Middle School (Medford, Mass.) monitoring water on Sept. 27 and 48 students from St. Joseph School (Medford) monitoring water on Sept. 29.

MWRA’s WWMD events continued, reaching even younger students in October. The authority hosted an event Oct. 3 and 4 in which 160 fourth-grade students from Cummings Elementary School (Winthrop, Mass.) tested water from Boston Harbor and participated in an environmental scavenger hunt, explained Meg Tabasco, project manager for MWRA’s School Education Program. The scavenger hunt is an activity MWRA developed for the Deer Island area to educate students about the water environment and the local Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant. A group of 80 fifth-grade students from Selser School (Chicopee, Mass.) tested water at the Chicopee State Park Oct. 7.  

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Students from St. Joseph School (Medford) participate in WWMD activities. Photos courtesy of St. Joseph School. Click for larger images.

“WWMD is a great hands-on experience for students of all ages,” Tabasco said. “It really connects them to their water environment, and I think the teachers like the experience as much as the kids.”

Another organization that takes the WWMD message to heart is theLittleton/Englewood (Colo.) Wastewater Treatment Plant. From Sept. 19 to Oct. 16, the plant gave groups a chance to schedule time to come to the plant and be escorted by a staff member to the South Platte River for firsthand experience taking water samples and evaluating water quality conditions using the WWMD test kits. The plant also held its annual Clean Water Exposition and Open House on Sept. 28. The event featured exhibits, hands-on experiments, demonstrations, videos, and educational handouts.

WWMD activities are expanding every year. For more information on how to get involved, see www.worldwatermonitoringday.org.      

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A student learns how a groundwater well works at the U.S. Geological Survey’s exhibit during the D.C. WWMD event. Photo courtesy of Allison O'Brien. Click for larger image.

— Jennifer Fulcher and Jacqueline Connell, WEF Highlights
Virginia Tech Database Provides Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Information for All

Photo courtesy of Sunil K. Sinha, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg).

It is no secret that the U.S. water and wastewater infrastructure is aging, and a new database could help utilities share information on performing cost-effective condition assessment and rehabilitation, according to Sunil Sinha, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech; Blacksburg).

WATERiD, the WATER Infrastructure Database is a platform for sharing and disseminating water and wastewater infrastructure information. It provides information on management practices, technologies, models, tools, standards, renewal engineering projects around the world, and ongoing pipeline condition assessment, according to a Virginia Tech news release.

“It is designed to serve as the first stop for water-infrastructure-related information and acts as the essential gateway that connects the stakeholders to various information sources scattered online,” the news release says.

The database, which became publicly available Sept. 1, is free to all users and is maintained and updated by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science’s Center of Excellence in Sustainable Water Infrastructure Management, the news release says.