Water Treatment

When we flush something down the drain, we assume that it’s gone for good, but this isn’t always the case. Nearly every day, workers find something bizarre in water treatment plants. Their findings can range from funny and wild to outright disgusting.

How strange do they get? Here are 10 of the craziest things found in water treatment plants.


1. Gold

One day in 2009, workers at a water treatment plant in Japan’s Nagano prefecture struck gold! Specifically, their water treatment facility was able to mine $56,000 worth of the precious mineral.

In Nagano’s town of Suwa, there are extensive metal plating facilities and hot springs, which cause the high concentration of gold in their waste. The Suwa Construction Office says that every ton of sludge they incinerate produces 4.2lbs of gold. Now, the Suwa water treatment plant sells about $167,000 worth of gold a year to smelters. The proceeds pay for the plant’s operating costs and maintenance.


2. A Cow

To this day, nobody knows how a cow got in the sewer. However, we do know that Chinese farmer Sheng Hsueh spent four days searching for his missing cow before locals heard faint mooing from the sewer. Locals were flabbergasted when they saw the cow peep her head through an open manhole. They fed her grass and kept her calm until officials arrived at the scene. Happily, the farmer was able to use a makeshift, crane-like device to get her to solid ground.


3. Rolex Watches

It seems like street cleaner Arron Large is one of the luckiest men in Britain. In 2012, he found a Rolex worth $25,000 in a sewer drain and shocked the world by turning it into the police. But as unbelievable as it may sound, his luck didn’t stop there. Large later found three more Rolexes in the same area!

It seems that someone stole the watches from a nearby house and dumped them in the drain, perhaps due to a guilty conscience. The owner, when eventually found, reported that they had been given to him by his late wife. The Rolex owner rewarded Arron Large for his “integrity and honesty,” showing that it certainly pays to have good character.


4. Fatbergs

You’ve heard of icebergs, and now you’ve heard of a “fatberg” — though you might wish you hadn’t. A fatberg is what London water treatment plant officials named their recurring blockages of cooking fat and wet wipes. These blockages can weigh up to 130 tons (or the equivalent of 11 double-decker buses).

The workers at the Thames Water Treatment Plant compared the removal of a fatberg to chiseling concrete. It takes an entire team of people dedicated to removing 20 to 30 tons of greasy fat every day. There are fatbergs throughout the London sewage system, and they spend about $1.3 million a month to get rid of them.


5. Thousands Upon Thousands of Goldfish

Please, do not flush your goldfish down the toilet! If you do, they’re liable to turn up at the water treatment plant.

Waste from the water treatment plant near the Niagra River is teeming with live goldfish for this very reason. It’s no wonder that an employee from the US Fish and Wildlife Service caught a 14-inch goldfish in this same river. Goldfish are incredibly resilient and can survive in a variety of different ecosystems, even the sewer. However, when goldfish populate natural rivers and the Great Lakes, they destroy the natural wildlife in the area. So if you decide you don’t want your pet goldfish anymore, take it back to the pet store instead of flushing it down the drain.


6. Hand Grenades

In 2016, sewage workers in Glasgow, Scotland, passed around a small device they had found, shouting “Grenade!” as a joke. One of the workers suggested that they tell officials about the object. Good thing — as it turns out, it was a hand grenade, dating back to World War II. Quickly, bomb disposal experts arrived, and residents left the scene. Luckily, the bomb disposal experts safely removed the hand grenade from the sewer, and everyone lived to share this remarkable tale.


7. A Giant Mass of Worms

Not too long ago, a video of a massive, alien-like creature quivering in a North Carolina sewer went viral. Could there be aliens in our water treatment plants?

Not quite. Experts concluded that the pinkish mass was actually a colony of Tubifex worms. Typically, Tubifex worms thrive in wet soil rather than sewers. So naturally, the startled sewage workers had not seen them before. The wriggling mass formed when the worms bonded together to survive the lack of soil around them. Sad for the worms, but at least the people of North Carolina don’t need to worry about aliens in their sewage pipes.


8. A Human Brain

21 years ago, at Bethlem, Pennsylvania’s wastewater treatment plant, Scott Bachman was routinely cleaning the catch basin. Bachman couldn’t help but notice an odd-looking pink mass amidst the sludge. Due to Bachman’s previous employment as a coroner, he could quickly identify that it was the human brain.

Police officials say that the brain could not have come from a research lab or hospital because there were no chemical preservatives. Since the brain was still fresh, it’s only logical that someone flushed it down the toilet. This mystery remains unsolved, but it’s not nearly as uncommon as you might think for people to find human body parts at water treatment plants.


9. A 13-Foot Burmese Python

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew decimated several pet shops in Florida. Still today, South Florida continues to suffer from the overpopulation of exotic animals.

Mike Gee is the leading operator of a water treatment plant in Marco Island, Florida. One day, one of his service workers found a 13-foot Burmese python in the concrete valve box. Fortunately, Mike Gee had experience working with snakes and other reptiles. They captured the snake and sent it to the Rookery Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, where they euthanized and studied the snake.


10. Alligators

The tale of alligators roaming the sewer system late at night is more than the stuff of urban legends. In places where alligators are naturally occurring, they thrive near any freshwater source, including our drainage pipes.

In particular, there are numerous cases of alligators that require extraction from sewage pipes in Florida. Just last year, an alligator was peeking out of a residential sewer system in Sarasota, Florida. Thankfully, police officers were able to withdraw the 6-foot alligator from the sewers without further incident.


Stay Safe with The Science of Water

You never know what’s lurking in your water! Stay on the safe side by investing in a water filtration system for your home.

Our team at the Science of Water can assess your home’s drinking water quality with a complimentary water test. During our consultation, we can determine the best water filtration system for your household — and make sure there are no odd chemicals or pesky critters in your drinking water.

If you are interested in requesting a water test or learning more about our services, contact our team at (352) 745-7070 or (904) 580-0000.


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