Two weeks ago, a four-alarm fire ravaged the engine room of the North River Wastewater Treatment along the Hudson River, sending raw sewage into the Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers. Beaches were closed and other water activities were discouraged as the Department of Environmental Protection raced to stop the sewage from pouring into the waterways. Three days after the fire, the DEP finally stopped the discharge, and how crews did so is dramatically described in the NY Times.

All around Stephen Askew was raw sewage, eight feet deep, flooding a crippled waste-treatment plant in Harlem. But Mr. Askew never had a choice; he had to go in... The temperature inside the plant on July 23 exceeded 120 degrees. Mr. Askew had vaulted over a railing onto a raft floating in the sewage, he said, and paddled to the plant’s backup pump. In the darkness, he stood up in the boat — careful not to overturn it — and opened a nonfunctioning valve manually. The pump restarted and, soon after, the sewage stopped flowing into the Hudson.

There were a many worries: Would the roof collapse, how could workers deal with the 140-degree heat (by taking 20-minute shifts; they also wore respirators), would they be able to stop the sewage? The engine room was severely damaged, too: "Lights on control panels have shriveled. Plastic buttons used to operate the engines dangle out of their sockets, like cheese hanging from a pizza."


Less than a week after the fire, waterways were declared safe for swimming and the Brooklyn Bridge swim across the East River went off without a hitch. Crews have been working 16 hours a day to get the plant back to working order. DEP engineer David Prestigiacomo said, "It’s a fire in your house. Our mission is to clean the water. It’s important to me."