The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for June 24th, 2019

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End to end, and where your poop goes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a view of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant over in Greenpoint, the newest and largest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants. The eight egg shaped structures which define the facility are bio digesters. What that means is that they contain cultures, in industrial amounts, of the same bacteria that the human gut carries. After undergoing several stages of filtration – mechanical, aeration, and so on – NYC’s brew of sewage and storm water is pumped into those eggs whereupon the bacteria go to work. The micro critters consume what’s left of nutrients in the “honey” (which is how the wastewater engineers of the DEP refer to the stuff) and both the digestive process and their biologies sterilize the stuff. The DEP spends a lot of time making sure that the environment inside the eggs is conducive to this biological action, which includes maintaining a constant interior temperature that matches that of the human body.

It seems that we humans have a remarkably inefficient gut, which is why we fart when consuming too much food. So too, does the sewer plant get gassy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those four cylinders burn off the waste gases produced within the eggs, which largely take the form of Methane. As this turns the sewer plant in Greenpoint into one of the largest point sources of “greenhouse gases” in NYC, the DEP is working with the National Grid company in pursuance of harvesting the methane, which would be chemically modified a tad and added to National Grid’s “natural gas” supply and sold to customers. One is fairly familiar with both this partnership and the process, and the wheelings and dealings behind it, and it’s pretty problematic.

The alternative, however, is to do nothing and continue pumping millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Manhattan, at the corner of East 13th and Avenue D, is the Manhattan Pump House. If you’re in the City and flush a toilet anywhere south of 79th street, your “product” is coming here. I’ve been inside this structure, which plunges multiple stories down into the ground (it’s actually deeper than it is tall). All of the “flow” goes into that cylindrical structure on the left side of the facility, which is called a “surge tower.” There’s a black maelstrom visible from the catwalk, which spirals down into a pipe laid across the bottom of the East River and then eastwards deep under Greenpoint and to the plant.

So, that’s where your poop goes.

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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 24, 2019 at 1:00 pm

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