City infrastructure stories rule. The NY Times went to the Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and found out what gets flushed or swept into sewers. A third of the city's waste goes through the Wards Island "grit chamber" (apparently the Upper East Side and Upper Manhattan generate a lot of crap), the wastewater gets cleaned, and then the purified water goes into the East River. Superintendent John Ahern tells some amazing stories to the Times:
"Sometimes you find money," he said, looking into the bins. "We get a lot of stuffed animals, anything kids throw down the toilet. We don't get much feces or toilet paper because it gets dissolved into the flow.
"We get a lot of turtles and fish. We got a carp this big," he said, holding his hands 15 inches apart. "We've had a canoe come in here; it got caught on the screen. We've had pieces of telephone poles, Christmas trees. Oh, you name it — mattresses, dead dogs. We got a live dog once.
"Once we got this thing: it was a wire that started gathering rags and stuff in the sewer and just grew like a snowball and came washing in, a big ball of garbage," he said. "We called it the Volkswagen."
He stood on a catwalk between the canals and looked down at the dark gray waters, pocked with bubbles.
"That's from the methane gas released by the sediment," he said.
And yes, the sewers sometimes become a grave for the unfortunate.
"We've had a few dead bodies," he said. "We got a homeless woman, but it's mostly men. Once we had a guy who was shot. The last one we had was a homeless guy, a few years ago in the Bronx. They go into the manholes to look for jewelry and money, and then they get overcome with gas, go unconscious and die down there. When we get a dead body, we shut down the operation and call the cops."
The only thing missing from this article is a video to go with it - do we suspect a video crew would have been overcome by the smell?
There are a few jobs offered at the Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, including Sludgeboat Captain. There's a book about the city's santitation history, Fat of the Land. And we're reminded of the movie, Spirited Away, when Chihiro has to give a bath of a sludgy mess that's actually a river god.