Immigrants Serving Infrastructure

In January, I invited my son's high school science class to tour our wastewater facility and asked two co-workers to share a bit about themselves. What followed was amazing.

First, laboratory supervisor Santos Marquez told what it was like to father a child at 17 and work hard to graduate from college five years later. He recounted his struggles as a young father, husband, and college student. Santos was the first member of his family to get a college degree; his father was a janitor, and his mother made paper cups. Santos' son graduated from college in 2006, his younger brother got his degree a day later and then went on to Harvard Law School, and his sister graduated from University of California, Berkeley.

Then, automation supervisor Enrique Perez talked about leaving Mexico to live with an uncle who insisted that he master English. He applied for a job at an egg processing plant with a distinctive odor that could be smelled from miles away. He was turned down for a job, but before he left the parking lot, he went back in and told them that he knew he could help them (original letter didn't specifically reference the odor.) They hired him. Fortunately for our treatment plant and the city, I was eventually able to recruit him to our facility.

Both Perez and Santos are bright and hard working, and both represent the present and the future of our facility.

The kids listened and didn't say a word. My son later told me how moved they were by these stories of hope, hard work, and success—just as I was by your story of Denver Public Works Director and Cuban immigrant Guillermo Vidal ("Revolutionary writer").

—Chuck Rogers, wastewater treatment plant superintendent, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Permeable Pavement

After coming across your article on Chicago's use of permeable asphalt (The trickle-down effect"), I thought you'd like to know that we, too, are venturing down the permeable “road.”

In November we completed the first phase of a mile-long reconstruction project that incorporates permeable brick pavers. The second phase will begin this spring. The first roadway in the Midwest to use these pavers, it's standing up to this year's intense winter onslaught just fine.

—Jennifer McMahon, assistant city administrator, Warrenville, Ill.

Lighting The Way

Editor's note: Our Dec. 5 e-newsletter regarding snow and ice accumulation on LED traffic lights continues to generate responses.

The few failures we've experienced with LED signals were related to heat and/or condensation buildup or circuit board failures, and manufacturers seem to have corrected those problems.

However, LED signals are typically not as bright as their incandescent counterparts and their cone of vision is narrower, two reasons public works departments have been slow to install them. The reds and greens have caught up, but the yellows still lag behind.

Dialight makes an “extreme bright yellow” unit that produces 1500 candelas at startup, but that's still somewhat less than the output of a yellow signal with a 150 W bulb.

—John Young, PE, senior engineer of intelligent transportation systems, Maryland State Highway Administration

In his letter to the editor, John Herndobler states that LED lamps contain mercury, and that their disposal is therefore a cause for concern. Not true.

LEDs contain trace amounts of assorted metals, but mercury isn't one of them. Perhaps Herndobler is confusing LEDs with compact fluorescent lamps.

Furthermore, burning coal to generate electricity emits mercury into the atmosphere. So not only are we reducing carbon emissions by using LED traffic signals, we're also reducing mercury emissions.

—Talon Swanson, environmental specialist, King County, Wash.

Corrections And Clarifications

Because of an editing error, the article "Bacteria in the bayous" was improperly subtitled. The printed subtitle incorrectly suggested that stormwater dischargers were seeking to relax water quality standards pertaining to bacteria in local waterways in order to reduce their efforts to correct the problem. Local stormwater dischargers are committed to reducing bacteria loadings while seeking to refine stream standards. Thus, the text should have read, “Reducing discharge loads while seeking to refine instream standards.”

PUBLIC WORKS regrets the error.