The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

thaumatropically grotesque

with 4 comments

Back in the saddle, and Brooklyn’s invisible flame, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor and some Newtown Creek Alliance business found me up on a roof in Greenpoint the other day, where a spectacular vantage point on the largest and newest of NYC’s fourteen sewage treatment plants was encountered. The POV is south by south west, for the curious, and the street upon which those tractor trailers are parked is Kingsland Avenue in a section of Greenpoint which I’ve long referred to as “DUGABO” or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

Hey, you’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate guys, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant uses its “digester eggs” to sterilize and thicken sewer water via biological process into a liquid with the consistency of honey that is commonly referred to as “sludge.” Bacterial specie are maintained within the eggs that consume nutrients within the liquid, and their particular biology results in the production of industrial levels of methane gas. Given that the bacterial population is pretty much identical to that found in the human gut, this sort of gas production is something which most of us are pretty familiar with.

Thing is, whereas we humans can fart or belch out this waste product – given the comparatively tiny amount of the stuff which the human gut produces – the sewer plant has to instead find some way of expressing the waste material which doesn’t involve explosive exhalations of mephitic gases.

Notice those four pipe shaped structures, and the distortion in the light just above them? Invisible flame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An upcoming project which the plant’s managers are embarking upon with the National Grid company will attempt to harvest the methane as part of a “waste to energy” experiment, but for now the waste gas is simply burned off. An interesting bit of engineering is at work in the shot above. It seems that when the plant first opened, the temperature and frequency of the combustion process was producing a bright orange and blue flame reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d see on a propane grill or domestic stove. Passerby in Greenpoint and motorists on the Long Island Expressway (found on the Queens side of Newtown Creek) would regularly call 911 and report that there was a fire at the sewer plant.

DEP’s engineers “tuned” the venturi jets of the four exhaust stacks to burn invisibly instead, which I’ve been told was accomplished by regulating both the amount of oxygen within the mechanism and the amount of pressure within the gas line leading out from the eggs. The system is far from perfect, however. Area businesses report that the four stacks occasionally produce a “sonic boom” sort of noise, and create a disturbing vibration which transmits through the atmosphere and into neighboring buildings.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. Why are the digester “eggs” egg-shaped?

    georgetheatheist . . . the chicken or the egg

    June 13, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    • The optimal shape for a biological reactor, I guess. I’ve been under them as well, and I can report that the egg shape continues on the bottom. They’re essentially sitting in collars.

      Mitch Waxman

      June 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm

  2. Hey Mitch! A million years ago, when I was a charming maid, there was some sort of gas facility down there. They had a tall stack that belched a huge flame I could see from my bedroom window in the Celtics.

    Fiesta Cranberry

    June 13, 2016 at 4:14 pm

  3. […] Well, I guess the location is still industrial, it’s just a different kind of industry – entertainment rather than petrochemical. At any rate, 520 Kingsland Avenue is a few stories above the flood plain and whilst up there and on site, I got busy with the camera. You’ve seen this point of view before, incidentally – in a 2016 post where I told you about Brooklyn’s invisible flame back in June. […]


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