Vallone pushes city DEP to fix fan at wastewater plant to staunch stench

Astoria residents smelled a foul sewer odor during the annual fireworks display on the East River at Astoria Park. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Nathan Duke

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he plans to make a stink about a sewage smell that has plagued parts of Astoria for the past three months until the city cleans up the problem.

In early April, the councilman said he noticed a foul odor in the northwest corner of the community, especially near Astoria Park but also as far out as LaGuardia Airport.

Late last month, Vallone met with members of the city Department of Environmental Protection, who explained that the smell was possibly the result of a broken 1,000-horsepower fan at the water pollution control plant on Wards Island. The malfunctioned fan blows air into sewage to increase oxygen levels and inhibit the pollution levels in the sewage.

But when the fan stopped working, a sewage smell began seeping from the treatment center into western Queens locales, such as Astoria Park and along Ditmars Boulevard.

“It’s a raw, human waste smell,” said Vallone, who first noticed the scent at the beginning of April. “It was so bad, I could not sleep several nights without burning candles.”

Kellyann Tobin, who lives near Ditmars Boulevard, said the odor made her life miserable when she got home from work in the evenings.

“It was two weeks of hell,” she said. “When I’d leave in the morning, it was like being hit with a wall of sewage. It smelled like a mixture of vomit and rotten eggs. It made my eyes water.”

Vallone said the DEP originally tried to blame the smell on “low tide,” but he did not buy that explanation.

“I’ve spent my whole life here, so I know it’s not low tide,” he said. “Apparently, they don’t believe their crap stinks, but it does. You don’t need a rocket scientist to figure this out.”

Vallone said his office has received tons of complaints about the smell.

The DEP could not be reached for comment.

The DEP told Vallone it would likely take weeks to fix the Wards Island fan, but the agency would spray a perfume mist at the site in the meantime. The city also planned to remove wastewater from tanks and place additional crews at the site to clean grease and grit pits.

Vallone said he wants the city to stifle the stench as soon as possible. It has caused children’s eyes to water during after-school programs at Astoria’s PS 122 and put a damper on an annual fireworks show at Astoria Park, where people held their shirts over their noses during the event.

“To think that this Astoria tradition was almost ruined by a problem that went unresolved for over a month is unacceptable,” Vallone said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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