Fire in Harlem Dumps Millions of Gallons of Sewage into NY Waterways

07/22/2011 1:16 PM |

Treatment plant on fire

  • Treatment plant on fire

Swimming off Seagate in Brooklyn and several beaches on Staten Island, as well as all contact with the waters from the Verrazano Bridge through the East, Hudson and Harlem rivers, has been discouraged by the city’s department of health after a fire at a sewage treatment plant this week resulted in the discharge of millions of gallons of raw sewage, the Times reports. The warning will remain in effect at least through Sunday, and could possibly spread to other public beaches, which have not yet been affected. “Public boat launches on the Hudson [were] shut down,” the Times reports. “People fishing from piers were told the water was unsafe. Swimmers young and old were being turned away from Riverbank State Park.”

New York’s capacity to handle wastewater has improved dramatically over the last several decades, but sewage discharges are still a common occurrence; year-round tests of the waters off of Brooklyn’s beaches have revealed notable levels of bacteria.

But the scale of this most recent discharge is unusual. One of five pumps at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Harlem caught fire unsuspiciously Wednesday, and took firefighters four hours to bring under control. During that time, the plant stopped treating the 120 million gallons of sewage it handles on average daily—it can handle as much as 340 million gallons on a rainy day—and diverted it instead to 56 pipes that empty into the Harlem and Hudson rivers. “This is giving us a picture of what it was like four decades ago,” one environmental advocate told the broadsheet. Yuck!