Students descend into Paris' sewer system to find out how the world works

This academic year the Primary School has embarked upon a whole-school inquiry into how the world works. This inquiry has begun with an investigation into water, based on the central idea: "our planet's water is vital to life and deserves care." Over the course of the semester students will be investigating where water comes from, how we use it, how it changes and where it goes.

As part of this inquiry, classes from Grade 1-5 were tasked with visiting Paris' Sewer Museum (Musée des égouts) just a short distance away from ISP along the banks of the Seine. On Tuesday, October 10, it was Grade 3's turn to descend into the sewers of the city.

ISP visits the Paris Sewer Museum

The students were met by a guide, who explained that the sewer system transports the waste of more than two million Parisians on a daily basis. The students learned that rain water, used water and waste are all collected in the underground pipe system, which transports the water to treatment centers on the outskirts of Paris.

One student asked if rain water was one type of water that we use in our homes. The museum's guide explained that rain water is actually less clean than the water we use in our toilets as it contains pollutants from the air, including gasoline. The sewers themselves are dangerous places to work too, which the students found out when they saw the protective gear that the system's workers have to wear before coming into contact with the water and waste.

This was the first time that many of the students had ever been inside a sewer system and one of the first questions was, "are there rats down here?" To which the answer was "yes, you are guests in their home!" In fact, they were all surprised to discover that rats aren't the only wildlife living in the sewers, but that spiders, turtles and even a small crocodile have all been found in the pipes. This small crocodile, found in 1984, even came from as far as Egypt to wind up in the Paris sewer system.

ISP visits the Paris Sewer Museum

The sewer system is home to all sorts of wilflife, including rats

ISP visits the Paris Sewer Museum

Students hear about Eleanore, who was once the system's resident crocodile

The students were shown around the system and took note of the drain grates that feed into the pipes from the streets above every 15 meters. They saw that there are four different types of pipes in the system, from the small domestic pipes that transport waste from their home, right up to the enormous central system pipes leading to the treatment centers.

ISP visits the Paris Sewer Museum

The visit ended with an important message to the students that nothing should go in the toilet except human waste and toilet paper. The guide impressed upon students that water is a necessity, we are privileged to have access to it and that it is our responsibility to respect and protect it as a natural resource.

Following the trip Grade 3 reflected on the experience in the sewers by writing an account of how water is processed in the system, all the way from toilet to tap.