A Perfect Valentine’s Day: Candy, Flowers…Sewage?

Home Brooklyn Life A Perfect Valentine’s Day: Candy, Flowers…Sewage?
Jim Pynn, the wastewater treatment plant's superintendent, explains how digesters break down sludge. (Michaelle Bond/The Brooklyn Ink)
Jim Pynn, the wastewater treatment plant’s superintendent, explains how digesters break down sludge. (Michaelle Bond/The Brooklyn Ink)

Restaurants, movie theaters, flower shops and candy stores aren’t surprised when business picks up for Valentine’s Day. And neither is a wastewater treatment plant in Greenpoint. For the second year in a row, more than 200 people registered to tour the seemingly unromantic place.

“All those chocolates have to go somewhere,” said David Nelson, a 25-year-old urban planner on the tour. Heather Weed, his girlfriend, turned to him. “Ewww.”

Romantic couples, friends and classmates came to the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on Thursday to take one of the second annual Valentine’s Day tours. The plant even added a third tour to accommodate the demand, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection said.

For the past couple of years, the plant, the largest of the city’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, has given tours the second Tuesday of each month. Last year, that day happened to fall on Valentine’s Day, a fact that wasn’t overlooked. This year, the plant moved the tour to coincide with the holiday.

“It was such a bizarre pairing between the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and Valentine’s Day that I had to do it,” said one patron, Richard Iritano, who works for Air Canada. He heard about the tour on the radio and decided to bring his friend Jenny Jozwiak, a videographer.

“I love learning new things about my city,” she said.

Plant superintendent Jim Pynn first gave visitors a crash course in wastewater treatment, complete with a PowerPoint presentation that included the history of the process. Pynn has worked at the plant for four decades and it’s clear that he really likes to talk about sewage.

“What happens after you flush?” he asked the tourists. “You ask people and they say, ‘I don’t know. It just went away, thank God.’”

He explained the treatment process and how microbes digest wastewater.

“Yesterday, some of you guys gave me your business,” he said cheerily. “I use the bugs that are naturally in your belly to treat your sewage.”

The plant has been treating wastewater from northern Brooklyn, parts of Manhattan and western Queens since 1967 and can handle more than 300 million gallons of sewage a day.

“You guys are good producers, I gotta tell you,” Pynn said.

The treatment plant sees a surge of “sludge” from Manhattan around 9:30 a.m., Pynn told visitors. “The coffee starts doing its job,” he said. “And I’m proud to have it —believe it or not.”

After the sewage lesson, visitors headed up 120 feet to the top of one of the stainless steel digester eggs, which process the organic material in sewage. There, they stood on an observation deck while their tour guide told them how the digesters work. Couples could gaze out the windows and see the skyline, which, in the bright sun, made for a beautiful, maybe even romantic, sight.

“I always tell people, if Donald Trump knew the view we had here, he’d have high rise apartments here,” Pynn said.

Pynn had some advice for couples on how to tie in Valentine’s Day with their time at Newtown Creek: “Snuggle with your significant other tonight and talk about water treatment.”

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