Tomio Nakadegawa is a Chief Stationary Engineer at the SFPUC’s Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant. On March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order directing all residents to stay home, except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors. This order included the wastewater sector.
For months, Nakadegawa has been getting up each morning and going into work like normal. His nine-year-old twins, Max and Rebecca who are sheltering in place at home with mom took notice.
“They aren’t worried about me. I don’t give them a reason to worry. I tell them everyone at work is being safe by wearing masks, practicing social distance and disinfecting everything.”
Nakadegawa admits that may not be true 100% of the time.
“As essential workers, sometimes wastewater staff are working in a tight, confined spaces with other workers. It’s so loud, there’s no choice but to be face to face to hear each other talk. While the risk comes with the job, it’s a nice reminder for everyone to not get lax and to always wear a mask.”
Whether you are a wastewater worker or the general public, Nakadegawa explains we all have a part to play in preventing the spread of COVID 19.
“19 of 20 Covid infections happen from airborne exposure; people talking face to face. That 95% is mostly preventable with masks. Hopefully everyone keeps their masks on. We’ve got to be careful.”
Nakadegawa’s background stems from being hired straight out of high school into the Chevron USA, Refinery Operator Training Program at the Richmond Refinery. Later, after deciding to advance in engineering he graduated from Cal Maritime and worked as a Merchant Marine Engineer.
“When running a ship at sea: you’re making sure the propulsion systems work to keep the ship moving, electricity is being generated, fresh water produced, the sewage is treated. You have to take care that the control systems keep everything working together.”
His years of experience have taught him to maintain a global awareness of processes and what is going on. Nakadegawa says working on a ship at sea and at a wastewater plant have something in common.
“It’s often a black box situation where you have to infer what’s happening inside the process or equipment by using instrumentation to look at it indirectly. That gives you some idea if you have a good internal concept of what’s going on.”
Nakadegawa’s son Max, a third grader, was given an assignment to write an essay on a topic related to COVID-19. Max worked on it for weeks and to Nakadegawa’s surprise, the essay was about sanitation workers. Max sees his father going to work and sees everybody at the plant as a sanitation worker. Nakadegawa agrees, saying “there’s not much separation and it’s not all that different.”
April 24, 2020
This is a persuasive writing essay about sanitation workers. They are actually working in all this COVID-19 mess! While we are staying safe at home, they still have to go to work. They help keep us safe and healthy. They have a difficult job and we don’t often think about how important they are. That is why we should appreciate sanitation workers.
Sanitation workers handle other people’s garbage, green waste, recycling and wastewater. They collect and sort the garbage, recycling and green waste and dispose of it safely. They also treat the wastewater that comes through the sewers so that it’s clean then they put it back in the Bay. My dad works at the Wastewater treatment plant in San Francisco and I got a lot of this information from him. Sanitation workers cannot stay safe because is it is hard for them to practice social distancing while working. They need to work with other people. They are also exposing themselves to other people’s germs through the garbage and wastewater. They should be able to do shelter in place like the rest of us but they can’t.
We should feel grateful because they help keep us healthy and safe. Imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have sanitation workers: the garbage and recycling would have to stay in people’s houses. That would be a real problem. It would smell, it would attract flies and it could spread disease. Wastewater treatment is important because it keeps the Bay clean and because it protects us from disease. Sanitation workers also have a pretty hard job. The garbage cans are big, heavy and difficult to lift, and the trucks that compact the garbage are dangerous. Wastewater treatment workers must work with enormous tanks of sewage (sometimes climbing high above them), high voltage electricity and large machines. You could even drown in the tanks – that seems like a really bad way to die doesn’t it?
Sanitation workers do an important job but we don’t often notice them or think about the work that they do in our everyday lives. We have never given them a second thought. When you flush your toilet, do you think about where the waste goes? When you put out your trash, it seems like it just disappears. But it doesn’t happen by magic. People and machines actually treat and touch your waste and garbage after you flush or put out the garbage cans.
You should start trying to appreciate the people who handle the trash and the waste because they are playing a very important role in keeping us safe.
Life is really strange during the COVID-19 pandemic. So we can try to realize things that we wouldn’t have realized during everyday life, like how important sanitation workers are to the world.