2003-08-07 / Top Stories

Sewage Plant Fire Causes Foul Odor In Area Neighborhoods

From the Associated Press
Sewage Plant Fire Causes Foul Odor In Area Neighborhoods From the Associated Press

A sewage treatment plant in Sheepshead Bay caught fire Tuesday night and required some 200 firefighters to bring the four-alarm blaze under control, officials said.

The blaze caused a foul stench to drift north across Brooklyn, officials said.

The fire began at about 7 p.m. at the Coney Island Sewage Plant at 2591 Knapp Street, according to Jim Long, a Fire Department spokesman.

"It was brought under control some time after 10 p.m.," Long said

No civilians were reported injured, Long said, but more than a dozen firefighters and police officers were being evaluated for smoke inhalation and treated for other minor injuries.

Fire officials said the plant’s air filtration system was damaged and residents may detect a foul odor until it is fixed. They did not estimate how long the repairs might take.

Officials told the media there was little chance the fumes from the fire posed a health risk to nearby resident, but shortly after the blaze began, the Fire Department asked area residents to shut their windows for precautionary reasons, Long said.

"We did it to err on the side of caution," he said. "At the time, we didn’t know what we were dealing with."

Several hours later, residents were allowed to reopen their windows because the fire was deemed "unhazardous," Long said.

Despite reassurances, several people described the ordeal of extremely thick smoke billowing through the neighborhood and several residents remained worried about long-term health consequences.

Officials said 50 Fire Department units and other emergency agencies responded.

The cause of the fire, at the 113-year-old sewage treatment plant, had not been determined, nor was it considered suspicious, last night, according to Fire Department and City Department of Environmental Protection officials, but is under investigation.

They said the plant remained in operation throughout the evening, eliminating the risk that raw sewage would be discharged into the ocean.

Charles Sturken, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the fire had broken out in a system designed to control odors from the plant. The system is composed in part of carbon filters, which are difficult to put out once they catch fire, he said.

Sturken said the plant, which opened in 1890, was the oldest in the city and one of the oldest in the nation, and is used to treat sewage and storm runoff from most of central Brooklyn. He said the plant was rebuilt in 1996 to include the odor-control system that was ablaze Tuesday night.

He said the biggest risk of a fire at a sewage treatment plant involves chlorine, which is used in the chemical process that transforms sewage into effluent clean enough to release into public waterways. If the chlorine caught fire, it would pose far more serious health hazards.

But Sturken said last night that no chlorine had been released into the air, and that the most severe threat concerned whether the odor control system on the plant would be quickly restored to normal use.

Until it is, he said residents of the area might be forced to endure an odor of sulfur — or rotten eggs — from the plant.

He added that the odor problem was complicated by this week’s excessive humidity.

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