Cédric's trip in San Francisco

June 25th 1998 version

Cédric's internship in

San Francisco Public Utility Commission

Water Department

January 12 to June 25, 1998

1. Company

My internship was spent at three different locations: first, and for a week only, in the Water Conservation department, next in the Quality control laboratory in Millbrae for four months and at last in the Southeast laboratory, organics group. All these different locations are part of the Water Quality Bureau of the San Francisco Public Utility Commission.

1.1 The conservation department (Mason St., SF)

This department is in charge of founding various ways to save water through the customer. They study the consumption, give advice and encourage people who use water to upgrade their devices. For example, water meters become less and less accurate with the time. After 10 years, the consumption based on meter reading could be 10% less than the real consumption. An analysis of the consumption over a long time period can give information about the degradation of meter accuracy. Another example, the conservation department sell toilets with low consumption (1.6 gallons vs. 3.5) for $10 when their retail value is around $60.

At first, I entered some data to compare the total consumption for different types of customers (other cities, industry, airport, shops, people…). This simple analysis has shown that the customer informed by the conservation department have reduced their consumption by 10%, while all the other categories (other city, airport) have been stable or have increased.

I did some statistics on restroom use in two public buildings. I followed an adviser in the visit of the building to help customer to save water.

After a week, I moved to Millbrae, in the water quality control laboratory.

1.2 The Water Quality Control Laboratory

1.2.1 What they do

The Water Quality Bureau has the mission of monitoring the drinking water of San Francisco City and all the cities that use it. All the chemical properties of the raw water and final product are conducted by three groups: wet chemistry (3 chemists and 1 senior chemist), organic chemistry (3 chemists and a senior chemist) and microbiology (3 microbiologists and a senior microbiologist). The supervisor is Cindy Wong. She's helped by three supervisors: quality assurance, microbiology, and parasitology.

Wet chemistry: They conduct all the classical analyses on 100 samples every day: pH, conductivity, turbidity, fluoride, alkalinity, hardness, chloride and chlorine residual, colorimetry, UV254, TOC (total organic carbon), nitrate and nitrite, ionic HPLC, solid residual…

Organic chemistry: They use gas chromatography and GC/MS to perform the analyses. The samples need to be prepared before analysis. They look for DBP (disinfection by­products) coming from the chlorine process (halo­compound) and all volatile compounds in the drinking water…

Microbiology: They test for the presence of coliforms in the raw water and drinking water. For the drinking water, 70 samples come every day. They have to be free of coliforms, especially E. coli. Around twenty raw water samples come every day. They use to have some bacteria that are quantified. In the parasitology section they look for Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

Engineering: They are analyzing all the data coming from the lab, performing studies to improve, survey, care for, and update the water system. At the time I was in Millbrae, they were doing a major study to convert the San Francisco water treatment to chloramine from chlorine.

1.2.2 What I have done

I spend two months in the wet chemistry lab, doing all the analyses (except TOC, nitrite/nitrate and HPLC). I was surprised to be allowed to perform these analyses. The data I got are official data for the City. But the QA/QC (quality assurance and quality control) is strong enough to allow a foreigner with a chemistry background to do the job.

I spent one month in the microbiology lab. As for the chemistry, with a good teacher and if you follow the QA/QC, I was able to perform the job.

I also worked with the engineers to perform two tests about the chloramine study: a test to find the best proportion of reagents, necessary to remove chloramine from the drinking water before discharging the water to the reservoir, and a three month study to monitoring the chloramine degradation in the drinking water.

I spent some time to help to setup the new computer system to manage the samples and the analysis results. I also visited the Harry Tracy treatment plant (filtering and disinfection), make a round trip with sampler to collect water samples, and visit the parasite pilot lab.

During this time, I spoke a lot with everybody about anything: their job, their life, and their opinions. The sample schedule allows us to have some free time in the day.

1.2.3 What I couldn't do

I didn't work in the organic lab because they use very expensive instruments and learning these instruments takes to much time. I've already worked with GC/MS and HPLC, so I didn't really need to learn them more.

In Millbrae, the main job is routine samples. It's means they don't have many projects in chemistry. It was difficult for the supervisor to give me a project.

1.3 Southeast Laboratory

After a break wherein I return in France for 10 days, I moved to Southeast seavage treatment plant laboratory.

1.3.1 What they do

Here they are studying all the "dirty" samples for public or non profit organizations: waste water, industrial effluents, any kind of pollution. The lab is divided into three groups: wet chemistry, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry.

As in Millbrae, they have routine samples coming from the treatment plants, from the many areas the city wants to check and from customers who want some special analyses performed. The nature of the job is quite different because for all the non­routine sample, you need to perform an analysis without prior knowledge of the sample.

Chemistry: The samples go through many tests: pH, BOD (biological oxygen demand), TSS/TDS/TS (total suspended/dissolved solids), turbidity, settleability, chlorides, fluorides, alkalinity, hardness, amonia, nitrite/nitrate, phenolic compounds, volatile acids, phosphorus compounds, TOC, cyanides (CN-), residual chlorine, MBAS (methylene blue active surfactant, for detergents), uric acid, conductivity, COD (chemical oxygen demand), grease and oil...

Inorganic chemistry: They are monitoring 21 metals with two AA's (atomic absorption with a furnace and a cold flame) and an ICP (inductively coupled plasma) in any kind of samples (from drinking and wastewater treatment plant, health department, environmental studies...). They receive between 120 to 140 samples a week.

Organic chemistry: They monitoring at least 200 organic compounds in water samples and any kind of sample: phenolic compound, explosive derivatives, halogenated compounds, pesticides, PAH and VOC (volatile organic compounds). They use GC/MS, GC/ECD, and HPLC to perform routine samples and special samples.

1.3.2 What I've done

I've been integrated in the organics group. The supervisor at Southeast organics is the same as Millbrae organic group (John Gregson). In three weeks I help to different jobs: ordering material for automated analysis, I tried to run a robot and help to make a difficult analysis on really dirty sand sample, using TLC and HPLC.

I had the opportunity to make a tour in the wastewater treatment plant to have an overview about the process.

Each time I had free time, I used to interview people about their job, about the method they use, the organization and of course, about any kind of subject I could found, especially the comparison between American and French culture.

2. Strength and weakness of each place for the intern

2.1 Millbrae

In Millbrae, the job is routine, the same samples are analyzed all the time. The consequence is that the QA/QC is very efficient and it was easy to integrate me in the team. In regard to the safety, analyze of drinking water doesn't require hazardous chemicals. For the most part, the chemicals are diluted, so the risks are minimized.

Another aspect of the job is that there are no surprises. Everything is already set up, so it's difficult for the supervisor to found a project for a student.

2.2 Southeast

If the wet chemistry lab works the same way as in Millbrae, the organic and inorganic groups receive unknown samples from many origins. So the methods often have to be adapted to the sample.

One of the main consequences is that the chemists there have more responsibilities. The QA/QC is also more difficult to implement with heterogeneous samples. The cost of the instrument restrains the use of the instruments by the student. The learning process to use the instrument is also longer. The extraction uses many solvents, not always healthy.

2.3 Conclusion

Millbrae is better for safety and to learn the QA/QC. The organic lab in Southeast is better for a chemist with a good background and who stays for a long program.

3. What I've learned

The most important thinks I have learned are the human relations. My English is now fluent enough to be comfortable in any situation and to speak with anybody. I experienced the QA/QC and saw its strength and weakness. I practiced chemistry everyday and became more confident in my ability to work. I also saw the chain of command, the team management, and many aspect of work I couldn't discover at the university.

4. Thanks

Thanks to Aisling DALTON from ASPECT school who found this internship for me.

I want to thank everybody in the Water Department for welcoming and accepting me in their work areas (or more for some). By order of appearance:

Kim KNOX (Water Conservation), who was really very, very patient and explained slowly the San Francisco water system to me.

Cindy WONG (Millbrae) a nice supervisor who always took time to receive me; Patrick (senior chemist who trusted me), Betty (microbiology supervisor, who was indulgent), Paul (the most funny senior/friend who has incidentally a really nice wife), Soccorro (QA supervisor, who will one day be able to speak French), Lewis (the best teacher and professional I ever saw), George (the dynamite man), Chenxi (my commercial friend), Rafael (the quiet strength), Jeff (the friend with whom I have spent the most time...), Bianca and Roselle (who gave me my first tour in SF), Bonnie (the fatalist microbiologist), Dina (the future computer woman), Hope (secretary, and mother of everyone), Lisa (the discrete), both Barbaras (the secretary, who's always helpful and talkative, and the engineer, the falsely timid one who becames interested in my tendentious discussion), Hsiao-Lung (who always answered my chemical questions with patience and showed me the Harry Tracy treatment plan), Jina (parasites studies, I was so sorry she's married), Leonard (the stable irremovable), Quantsing (the telephone man)...

I can't forget to thank the microbiologist bear, but I can't give his name, he wants to stay anonymous.

John GREGSON (the amazing tornado who can speak at 150 words/minute and says very interesting things at the same time), James SALERNO (Southeast supervisor, who took the time to introduce me and explain the treatment process to me, an undeniable boss that many people would dream to have), Richard (the over­booked man who received me so friendly to work with him), Tony (style and american, the two incompatible words that exist with him), David (the handyworker of the team, who does an extraordinary job to simplify his coworkers life), Tifany (enigmatic woman, who listened to me but never share her feeling), John Lee (senior chemist who showed me all the process in the treatment plant and was always helpful), Lonny (senior chemist who's the union leader with his "own opinion"; I regret that I didn't have enough time to speak with him), Felix, Dolson and Mariana (the chemists who nicely showed me their job)…

I am sure to forget some other great persons who have accepted me and helped me during this internship, to all thank you very much.


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