Public Works and Environmental Services

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our administrative offices are open Mon – Fri by phone, email, and virtual 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Front-desk hours 9 a.m. – noon.
12000 Government Center Parkway
Suite 358, Fairfax, Va 22035
Lisa Good
Outreach Manager

The Science of Wastewater

Students learn about wastewater with the Science of Wastewater hands-on labs for grades 6 – 12.

Student working in the lab
students looking in microscopes
students working as a group in the lab

The lab could be applied to standards in middle school science or earth science, biology, chemistry, environmental science. The program designed for advanced placement environmental science provides a more in depth look at water quality and environmental stewardship with the potential of a project-based format.

The lab teaches students to become better stewards of our environment, protect public health and protect our infrastructure from harmful toxins.

The lab provides the opportunity to discuss the “Do Not Flush” materials that can cause sewer backups and blockages in the more than 3,400 miles of sanitary sewer lines located in Fairfax County. At the end of the lab, students will have gained an appreciation for how wastewater treatment plants work to protect, restore, and enhance human health and the environment.

All materials and supplies needed for the lab, including student and teacher workbooks, are supplied by Fairfax County Wastewater Management. We offer virtual assistance from a scientist and classroom assistance if needed. Individual teacher training is provided along with a step-by-step manual and training video. A Teacher Workshop and Field Trip of the Noman M. Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant are available.

Sewer Science Program Background

The Sewer Science Program has grown since originally developed by the City of Palo Alto, California in the 1990’s. Since Fairfax County adopted the program in 2006, with the assistance of FCPS teachers, new customized versions of the lab have been created for grades 6-12, the Science of Wastewater.

Maureen Goble, Lake Braddock High School Science Dept. Chair, describes Sewer Science Lab (at 9:10 in video)

How does it work?

The lab activities can be customized to your schedule or are completed over two 90-minute class periods or up to four 50-minute classes. The students learn how the municipal wastewater treatment process works. We do this by having the class create wastewater out of household ingredients that simulate waste found in real wastewater. Then, we work through the physical, biological, and chemical processes used at a treatment plant to clean that water.

Students will learn:

  • Primary Treatment (Physical process of settling)
  • Secondary Treatment (Biological process – using microorganisms to reduce ammonia)
  • Advanced Treatment (Physical process of filtration and chemical process for disinfection)
  • For a better understanding of how the treatment processes work to clean water, the students will learn how to perform water quality testing for pH, ammonia, turbidity, and chemical oxygen demand (COD) and how to identify the microorganisms that help to reduce nitrogen levels. Measuring for these parameters will ensure a healthy environment in the receiving waters once the clean water is discharged back into local waterways.

This hands-on lab has been created with four different levels of difficulty, and as such, testing and analysis correlate with student understanding. Select the lab that meets your needs.

VA SOL standards include but are not limited to: ES. 6acd, ES. 8cd, ES. 10 ae, ES 12e, BIO. 2ac, BIO. 4d, BIO. 8abd

Watch the video "Where Does the Flow Go in Fairfax County?"

Watch the Video "Fairfax County Wastewater Management"

Fairfax Virtual Assistant