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Love Stinks: A Valentine's Day Tour of the City's Sewage Plant

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (Stephen Nessen\/WNYC)

"Only our love hath no decay," the Renaissance poet John Donne once wrote, and in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at the city’s largest waste water sewage treatment plant, couples came to prove it.

Only our love hath no decay, the Renaissance poet John Donne [DUN] wrote. And in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at the city’s largest waste water treatment plant, couples came to prove it.

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Visitor Center, at the end of an industrial strip, is where the wafting odors of waste turn the air from foul to putrid. It's there that Lowell Hershey, 65, and his wife Grace Paradise, 55, both professional musicians, arrived for a Valentine's Day tour of the facility.

"Why not enjoy what New York has to offer?" Hershey asked. "If sewage is one of the things, why not?"

Last Valentine's Day, the couple went to White Castle for the fast-food chain's table-service special.

The first portion of the tour at the facility is led by the plant’s superintendent, Jim Pynn, who said he came up with the idea for a couple's tour last year, when the facility began giving public tours on February 14.

"We’re able to open up and show people what really goes on when their go, goes," he said.

If that doesn't get the heart racing, Pynn’s lecture on the history of sewage treatment in New York might — from chamber pots dumped onto streets, to the state-of-the-art machines at the facility that break down waste in massive onion shaped stainless domes known as Digester Eggs.

The plant is capable of processing 300 million gallons of waste water a day. It's the largest of the city's 14 wastewater treatment facilities and processes waste from Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

After the lecture, plant workers lead visitors to the bowels of the Digester Eggs, where, chances are if you flush a toilet in the city, your waste ends up here.

Charlotte Bell and Jason Musso are graduate students at the New School, are there for a class, not a date. But they both agree a facility tour would be a memorable romantic rendezvous.

"Maybe you want to have dinner afterwards, not before," Bell said.

"Yeah, meet up here, finish, then take a shower, then have dinner, Musso agreed.

The climax of the tour is the 360 degree view of New York and Brooklyn 120 feet atop the Digester Eggs.

As the first group filters out, Shawn Killebrew and his wife Courtney Kendall are in line for the next tour. They've been married for 10 years. Killebrew knows his wife hates Valentine’s Day, but he still wanted to surprise her.

"I thought this was a nice anti-Valentine's Day, Valentine's Day," he said.

"It is," Kendall said. "Thank you."

Signs atop the Digester Eggs at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

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Comments [2]

Trina from NJ

My environmental group, Cornucopia Network of NJ was a big player (or thorn in the side) of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioner for about 5 years in the early 90s trying first to get cleaner sewage, and as we learned more, to keep the still toxic sludge ( now named "biosolids") from being spread on farmland and put in bags misnamed for consumers. We lost the struggle except for keeping a huge lime stabilization plant from being built in Newark right next to the Path train and wholesale food outlets in the Ironbound. We also later helped defeat the plan to spread sludge on protected farms dedicated forever to be farms, thru our Farmland Preservation Act which paid farmers NOT to sell and build, but keep farmland.

file:///Volumes/My Book/Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes by Jeff McKay, - NFB.webarchive

This film is beautifully photographed, and narrated about our human and other waste which goes into sewers, sewer history and our (non) ability to make the water and sludge clean after the sewer. 52 minutes. Has some of my heroes like Maureen Reilly who managed Sludge Watch until she unfortunately died a few months ago, Laura Orlando, and Abby Rockerfeller, both with life long dedication to solving the huge problem of using clean water to carry away all industrial, toxic, pathological waste along with our human excrement.

Sewage Water can never be made fully clean by treatment again. And putting the contaminated sludge on our food producing land is insanity as the pathogens migrate into our food chain and heavy metals, toxic chemicals and radioactive waste reach ever higher levels and stop the use of the land forever, besides what they are doing to animals and humans.

Composting toilets with a return to non drugged natural living is the only sustainable way forward.

Trina

Feb. 14 2013 07:56 PM

this was the best Valentine's story I've heard in years -- I was chortling all the way through (glad to be able to read the parts I missed). I've toured other city's treatment plants -- have sure never thought of the Valentine's angle! Bravo for another "NPR-UNIQ" story!

Feb. 14 2013 05:23 PM

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