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PEP Sept. 2003
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Public Employee Press

Clean Water, Safe Water

A six-man crew of Marine Workers ferry a sludge tanker through busy New York Harbor. Six days a week, sludge is loaded onto vessels and transported from Harlem’s North River Wastewater Treatment Plant, to be processed into pure water and biodegradable fertilizer to be used on citrus farms.

DC 37 head Lillian Roberts gets on board as sludge boat operators and sewage treatment workers labor to keep New York waters clean.


The urban myth of albino alligators lurking in New York City sewers was debunked for good when DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts toured the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant June 24.

Instead of reptilian predators, Ms. Roberts and other DC 37 leaders and Dept. of Environmental Protection managers met dozens of skilled DC 37 members who diligently protect the environment and keep city beaches and waterways safe. “Years ago water treatment plants polluted New York waters; now we protect the environment,” said DEP Superintendent Abraham Lutteroit.

Members of Sewage Treatment Workers and Senior Sewage Treatment Workers Local 1320, Marine Workers Local 2906 and Electronic Data Processing Personnel Local 2627 operate the plant — one of 14 in the city — and crew the huge ships that take away treated sludge for drying at other sites. The 28-acre facility handles raw sewage and storm runoff from the 11-mile stretch that runs from Bank Street in lower Manhattan to West Harlem.

Plant Superintendent Steve Askew and 145 DC 37 members employ environmental engineering, computer technology, and nature’s forces of gravity and biology to purify 170 million gallons of wastewater every day for more than a half million West Side residents and millions of Manhattan commuters.

Thirteen hours a day, six days a week, the Marine Workers ferry sludge-filled tankers from the North River plant for dewatering at DEP facilities on the East River. Navigating New York Harbor, one of the busiest in the world, can be treacherous for the DEP seamen, who are on constant lookout for passenger ferries, sailboats and other small craft crisscrossing the East and Hudson rivers from Brooklyn to the Bronx. The crews also monitor riverbanks for illegal dumping, and, more recently, terrorist activity.

Local 1320 Pres. James Tucciarelli and DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts view the ship’s navigation board.

They can be proud of their longstanding record: They transport billions of gallons of toxic sludge without incident. Outstretched above the North River plant is Riverbank State Park, a recreational area used by millions of New Yorkers. In its bowels four stories below sea level is an automated labyrinth of pipes, aeration tanks, engines, blowers and filtration systems designed to recycle waste water into two ecological byproducts: clean water and biodegradable solids, which are converted to fertilizer for citrus groves and tomato farms in the South and West.

“Our members keep the work in-house and install, maintain and monitor this multi-billion dollar facility,” said Local 1320 President James Tucciarelli. The technicians make sure the facility operates at a standard higher than required by law.

“A foul-up could cost the plant superintendent his license and livelihood, as well as federal fines and jail time for EPA violations,” Mr. Tucciarelli explained. “That our Marine Workers and Sewage Treatment Workers have never had an environmentally threatening spill speaks volumes to the fine job they do keeping New York waterways clean,” Ms. Roberts said. “All of these DC 37 members have the highest caliber of training and qualifications needed to get the job done right.”



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