Monday, July 11, 2005

Pittsburgh Stinks

As a lifelong resident of South Hills neighborhoods with modernized sewer lines running underground from each house, I tend to forget that it wasn't that long ago when people relied on more primitive methods of removing liquefied waste from homes, businesses and institutions. But they did, and the old sewage is coming back to haunt us. Frick Park, one of the biggest parks in the city of Pittsburgh, has been taking a king-sized leak and the source of the mess is something that park visitors would rather not experience, or even think about:

Because the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority can't find problems with known sewer lines, Leader immediately thought the smelly water might be coming from a makeshift sewer.

"As soon as I read about the problem, I said 'Uh oh, it's a mine,' " Leader said. "Older houses, when they were built, used old mine shafts as sewers."

Mine subsidence is nasty business, but can you imagine something like that happening underneath you when the mine is partly filled with the kind of stuff that I am used to flushing down my toilet? Think of this as Nature's Septic Tank. In all fairness to our forebears, this does reveal some ingenuity on their part. Would you rather they had dumped it out the window, or into a stream?

This kind of leak could also happen in other areas:

Abandoned mines-turned-sewers, or "wildcat sewers," aren't unheard of in Pittsburgh, said Nancy Barylak, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.

"It's like a Pandora's box underground," Barylak said. "During the housing boom post-World War II, there was no sewage regulation so people were just putting lines in wherever just to get the houses up."

Pardon me if I sound like a girl, but EEEEEEEEWWWW!!!!

The Pandora's box simile, if I am remembering the myth correctly, evokes images of backyards popping open and the sewage flying out and plaguing all of mankind. Which is exactly how I would feel if something like this happened near me. Plagued.

The health department still hasn't concluded that there is sewage in the wetland, even though fecal coliform bacteria are 70 times state-accepted levels for recreation. Bird and dog waste flowing into ponds can create similar levels.
Bird waste? It must be those damned urban turkeys that have become a threat to humanity in southwestern PA. Or it might be something altogether different. Why not ask someone who was around way back when?

Andrew Ferens, 85, of Whitaker, thinks the source of the smell might have even earlier origins than a post-WWII wildcat sewer. In the early 1930s, his Boy Scout troop hiked near the park and they regularly passed a garbage dump. The dump was on Beechwood Boulevard east of Taylor Allderdice High School, he said.

"I remember distinctly D.L. Clark Candy Co. dumping five-gallon drums of candy over that hill," Ferens said about the company, which has gone out of business.

If you think that sounds bad, just imagine how much sweet sludge Willie Wonka must be dumping into the ecosystem. I wonder if this is how the pudgy little German kid ended up?

And speaking of Germanic type stuff...has anyone considered the possibility that there may be similar waste in Latrobe, PA, where the Rolling Rock beer is brewed? I always thought that stuff tasted like it was brewed out of a toilet.

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