May 24, 2023 - News

Des Moines' sewer pipe crud cited for its beauty

A photo of vivianite.

Des Moines Wastewater Reclamation Authority training specialist Tim Runde holds vivianite extracted from DSM sewer pipes. Photo: Courtesy of the WRA

Des Moines' sewer pipe crud, an iron phosphate commonly known as vivianite, is cited as a thing of beauty in a new book about rare pigments and color.

Why it matters: We always knew our [email protected]!+ was special and now it's documented.

Zoom in: "Book of Earth" by artist Heidi Gustafson explores ochre, a natural mineral that's used to make pigments.

  • One type of ochre, vivianite, was collected from chunks of clogged pipes replaced at Des Moines Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA).
  • At least two pigments can be made with it.

State of play: The WRA worked for years to rid its pipes of vivianite.

  • Recent operational changes that routed them through anaerobic digesters have largely resolved the problem, WRA director Jonathan Gano tells Axios.

πŸ’Ž The intrigue: Vivianite's blackish-blue crystals can be made into jewelry and sold for big bucks but the WRA is maintaining its small collection for now.

  • Their purported ability to soak up negative energies is the reason the WRA has so many happy employees, Gano says.
A photo of vivianite.
Photo: Courtesy of the WRA

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

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