The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Sewerage

altogether superhuman

with one comment

Tuesday, here again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor found me marching the new camera around to all the old familiar places in Long Island City. It was a comfortable night in industrial LIC, with temperatures in the high 50’s and clear skies.

Y’know, when I was composing this particular image, I was thinking “man, this is going to piss off George the Atheist.” George doesn’t like me messing around with angles like this, and I’ve received a few other “meh” statements on doing this sort of thing, but what the hell. I really wanted to get most of that tree in frame, and didn’t want to walk a block away to do so. Sorry, George.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dynamic range is a term describing the width and depth of contrast and color which a camera sensor is capable of recording, and one of several factors that governed my choice in purchasing the Canon R6 as the new “master cylinder” which would accompany me wherever I go. Pandemic spawned supply chain issues have created a situation in which even the staggeringly efficient operation that is BH Photo couldn’t fill my entire order in one go, and even at this writing I’m still waiting on various essential add-on’s and gear to arrive at HQ. Batteries, L-Bracket, an adapter which will allow my collection of older lenses to work with the new camera (there’s a new lens mount on the R series) – all have been arriving piecemeal at HQ.

One of the things I consider when buying on with a computer or camera system is the ecosystem surrounding it. Consider the iPhone, which is nearly always the category leader in the smartphone category, but only proprietary Apple branded peripherals can plug into the thing. When Apple bangs you out for $50 on a USB cable, the only USB cable you can charge the gizmo with – that’s ecosystem. On a grander scale, Volkswagen and Porsche use specialized screws in their cars, and you have to buy the screwdrivers and ratchet heads from them – expensively – if you want to repair the things yourself. Ecosystem. It’s the part of the price of things which doesn’t turn up on the sticker, and is one of the ways which modern day corporatists feed upon their customers long after the initial purchase has cleared.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Testing the capabilities of the new camera has been all consuming, so I haven’t had much time to worry about when the rest of my gear will turn up. Luckily, when my new toy was ordered, a native RF mount lens was part of the package. These shots were captured with a 24-105mm f4 L series zoom lens, for the edification of you curious pixel peepers out there.

Initial reaction? So far, I’m amazed by what the combination of lens and in body image stabilization offers me as far as hand held and low light shots – as much as 8 stops of stabilization. I’m also loving what tripod shots like the one above are rendering as, and that flip out screen is an early game changer. More to come…

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, November 30th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.

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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

December 1, 2020 at 1:00 pm

gentle manner

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Combined Sewer Outfall BB-013, from the Pulaski Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin- I warn you- this post will most likely “gross you out”.

In 1674, Boyle said: “I have often suspected, that there may be in the Air some yet more latent Qualities or Powers differing enough from all these, and principally due to the Substantial Parts or Ingredients, whereof it consists. For this is not as many imagine a simple and elementary body, but a confused aggregate of ‘effluviums’ from such differing bodies, that, though they all agree in constituting by their minuteness and various motions one great mass of fluid matter, yet perhaps there is scarce a more heterogeneous body in the world”.

When the pithy observation was recorded, “effluviums” were the central notion behind the miasmatic theory of disease.

CSO Outfall NC-077, Maspeth Creek, discharges 288.7M gallons per year into English Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

The viewpoint of the learned classes in prior ages held that when certain noxious vapors produced by a mingling of soil with that standing water typically found about marsh, swamp, and sewer- then mixed with the cool night air- form so called miasmas (which is an ancient greek for pollution, I’m told).

CSO Outfall NC-077, Maspeth Creek, Tier 2 outfall – photo by Mitch Waxman

These miasmas- or “epidemic influences”- were believed to be the cause of Cholera and Typhus– and all the other plagues which would one day scythe through the crowded 18th and 19th century cities of the Industrial Revolution.

Vitruvius, in the 1st century BCE, said: “For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mist from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy.”

CSO Outfall NC-077, Maspeth Creek, Ranked 25 out of over 400 in terms of volume – photo by Mitch Waxman

The air produced by, in, and around a sewer is typically an aerosol of whatever liquid solution might be floating through it. Hydroden sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and a host of other constituent compounds mingle and form what is generically known as “Sewer Gas”. Typically, this gas has the sulfurous smell commonly associated with rotten eggs. Otherwise lacking and poor, the average human’s sense of smell can discern this odor when its concentration in the surrounding air is minor- which speaks to an evolutionary quirk.

Obviously- our ancestors who could not detect this aerosol, or miasma, died off while while those who could detect them passed on these sensitivities on to future generations.

CSO Outfall BB-026, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

If you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this would probably be a good time to stop reading this post, incidentally. Things are about to get ugly.

As an example- When a toilet is flushed, and there is scientific evidence to back this, a plume of microscopic droplets- an aerosol– erupts from the water. These droplets carry microbes and virus particles, which then settle on surfaces around the commode facilitating the “surface to hand to mouth” vector of infection. Modern plumbing does its best to minimize this bioaerosol in the house, but routine antimicrobial maintenance with bleach and other chemicals is necessary to sterilize the potential infections which might otherwise occur.

CSO Outfall BB-026, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, these cleaning chemicals- along with non neutralized microbes- end up in the wastewater flow, and make their way into the sewers… just like the petroleum productsvolatile organic chemicals, and everything else that the human hive produces… where they swirl about beneath the streets and follow gravity to low lying areas. A properly designed system intercepts these waters, but in the case of a “CSO”, a lot of the poison makes it into the mud.

CSO Outfall BB-026, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

A classic example of a bacterium whose spread is defined by such aerosol dissemination is Legionella, but heavy metals and other contaminants may also find a pathway into the human body via such aerosols (let’s just call it vapor or fog). Additionally, fibers of toxic manmade substances- Asbestos for instance- are left behind during evaporation. Such deposits are then picked up on the wind, as are the dusty remains of the putrescent particulates which escape treatment by wastewater industries like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in Greenpoint or the Bowery Bay facility in Astoria.

During heavy rain events, some untreated sewage reaches the rivers, but a large percentage of it- the lion’s share- oozes out from the bulkheads of that assassination of joy called the Newtown Creek.

CSO Outfall NCB-632 – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek and its tributaries are indeed waterways, but no one ever discusses this plume of disease and contamination in the air. Fingers are pointed at certain chimneys and infamous underground lakes of petroleum and chemicals, heated discussions of when it might be safe to kayak or swim in the water are offered by interested parties, and odd admissions that there are some who actually fish in and consume the catch from these waters (which according to the EPA, are offering this catch for sale in area restaurants) both shock and titillate area wags- but what about the miasmas?

CSO Outfall NCB-632 – photo by Mitch Waxman

The sewer system of New York City is a composite beast, marrying together the municipal infrastructure of multiple communities into a single system. The cities of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan (the historically agrarian and until modernity- lightly populated – Bronx has almost always been ruled over by Manhattan) each had their own standard, staring elevation, and set of regulations governing the sewers.

This article from 2008 discusses recent attempts to consolidate and digitize the municipal record, and make sense out of the byzantine network of pipes which underlie the city.

CSO Outfall NCB-632 – photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

Who can speculate, all there is, which might be wafting out from these deep channels of filth and what strange aerosols are carried upon the gentle breeze- here in the Newtown Pentacle?

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