Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Report of Investigation of Pelham Sewage Disposal Plant Prepared in 1921

In the early 20th century, as the population of Pelham continued to grow, the Town of Pelham struggled to ensure its residents had the basics -- clean water, sewage disposal, adequate housing, and more.  Among the most difficult problems faced by the Town was the proper treatment and disposal of sewage.

The Town constructed a sewage disposal plant on the eastern bank of the Hutchinson River in an area near today's "Glover Field" (which once was known, as a consequence, as "Stink Field").  An investigation by State authorities in 1921, however, concluded that the plant was not being maintained or run properly.  The report, which provides an interesting glimpse into the mechanisms for sewage disposal at the outset of the Roaring '20s, is transcribed below, followed by a citation to its source.


An investigation was made by Mr. A. I. Howd of this Department on June 1, 1921, of the sewage disposal plant of the town of Pelham, Westchester county. N. Y.

The town of Pelham is situated in the southcentral part of Westchester county a short distance north of New York city between the city of Mount Vernon on the west and the city of New Rochelle on the east. The incorporated villages of Pelham, North Pelham and Pelham Manor comprise the town. They are provided with a water supply furnished principally by the New Rochelle Water Company, practically all of the residents being supplied. The town has a population of about 5,000.

The sewage disposal plant for the town is located in the village of Pelham Manor on the east side of the Hutchinson river. The disposal works consist of a screen and grit chamber, settling tanks, pumping plant, dosing tank and sprinkling filters. Previous inspections of the operation of the plant have been made by this Division in 1914 and 1918.

The whole of the village of Pelham and all of North Pelham are served by sewer systems tributary to the Pelham sewage disposal plant except a small area of about 30 acres, comprising about one-tenth of the area of North Pelham, the sewage from which is discharged into the Mount Vernon sewer system. The sewage from a small area in the southern part of Pelham Manor is discharged into a series of so-called liquefying tanks, the effluent from which is discharged into Long Island sound. The sewage from about 35 per cent of the area of the village of Pelham Manor flows by gravity to a pumping station, known as the Mt. Tom pumping station, from which it is pumped through 2,000 feet of force main to a point on Pelhamdale [Page 309 / Page 310] avenue where it empties into a sewer which carries it by gravity to the Pelham sewage disposal plant. The remainder of the village is served by a gravity system which conducts the sewage to the main sewage disposal plant.

The sewage from the different sections of the town flows through three main trunk sewers to a manhole outside the sewage disposal plant. There is a by-pass from this manhole through which r:aw sewage may be discharged direct into the creek. The by-pass is provided with a valve which will prevent sewage being discharged into the creek except at the discretion of the operator of the plant, but which does not prevent water from the creek backing up into the sewage disposal plant at times of high water.

The sewage enters the disposal plant through a screen and grit chamber located under the floor of a building which also houses the settling tanks, pumping plant and dosing chambers. The screens, which are of the bar type, were so clogged at the time of the inspection that the sewage was running over the top of the screens. It was learned from the attendant at the plant that the screens had not been cleaned for a considerable time and that the grit chamber was cleaned about two months previous to the inspection. According to the attendant, the grit chamber is cleaned about every three months, the cleanings being buried near the plant. The clogging of the screens caused the sewage to back up in the sewers approaching the plant, a manhole 300 or 400 feet from the plant being virtually filled' with sewage.

The settling tanks are divided into four units, the two northerly units being in operation at the time of the inspection. The capacity of the two units is about 78,600 gallons which provides 'an average detention period for the sewage of about 2 hours. These units had been in continuous use for about two months. A considerable portion of the sewage in the tanks was covered with a thick, crusted brown scum. The tanks not in use were filled with water. The sludge is emptied from the tanks from time to time and was said by the attendant to be buried in the ground near the plant.

The dosing tanks and automatic siphons were not operating properly at the time of the inspection. The dosing tanks were not emptied in rotation and the periods of dosing and resting of the filters were irregular.
Observations were made about noon which indicated at that time that Bed No. 1 was being dosed for a period of about one minute and was resting for about two minutes between doses. Bed No. 3 was being dosed for periods ranging from 15 seconds to 1 minute 20 seconds and was resting from 1 minute 45 seconds to 2 minutes 40 seconds. Bed No. 2 was not dosed during the observations. Later in the afternoon observations were continued. Bed No. 2 dosed for 5-1/2 minutes evidently for the first time in several hours. About one-half hour later Bed No. 3 was dosed for 6-1/4 minutes and near the end of the dose Bed No. 1 began to dose and was dosed for nearly 9 minutes. The beds were not dosed again during the remainder of the observations, Bed No. 2 having rested for an hour.

The sprinkling filters were being operated at an average rate of about 1,670,000 gallons per acre per day. It appeared at the time of the inspection that the center unit was operating considerably below this rate and the other two units considerably in excess of this rate. Several of the sprinkler nozzles in the center unit were clogged and in need of cleaning.

The effluent from the sprinkling filters was somewhat cloudy but apparently free from large particles of suspended matter. The stream into which the sewage is discharged is grossly polluted and the black muck on the banks of the creek presents a very unsightly appearance at low tide.

It was evident at the time of the inspection that the sewers were receiving excessive amounts of ground water and probably large quantities of storm water. This condition was plainly noticeable at a manhole on Pelhamdale avenue where sewage empties from the force main from the Mt. Tom pumping station into the gravity system. The sewage was quite clear and at the time free from any large particles.

It was impossible at the time of the inspection to make satisfactory observations as to the distance from the plant at which odors might be [Page 309 / Page 310] detected. While the inspection was being made at the plant, the wind was in the east carrying any odors that might arise across the river toward Mount Vernon. An attempt was made during the afternoon to observe odors from the Mount Vernon shore but before any satisfactory observation was made the wind shifted to the west.

It is evident as a result of the inspection that the sewage disposal plant of the town of Pelham is not being satisfactorily operated and several conditions should be immediately remedied.

The by-pass to the river from the manhole on the main sewer leading to the plant and located just outside the main building, should be removed or satisfactorily sealed. Its existence and use defeats the purpose for which the sewage disposal plant was constructed and is being operated, and furthermore, the discharge of raw sewage into the Hutchinson river through this by-pass is a violation of the public health law. This Department has recommended a number of times in the past that this by-pass be removed or sealed.

The screens in the screen and grit chamber should be cleaned several times a day or as often as is necessary to prevent sewage flowing over screens and so that they may be used for the purpose for which they were intended. The screenings should be removed and disposed of in a satisfactory sanitary manner. Under no condition should the screenings be pushed or discharged into the channel leading to the settling tank or be discharged into the Hutchinson river.

The discharge of sewage from the pumps into the dosing tanks should be more evenly regulated. It appeared at the time of the inspection that the middle dosing chamber received less sewage than the other chambers, since the middle sprinkling filter unit discharged less often than the end filter units. This lack of uniformity of distribution of sewage to the dosing tanks might possibly be corrected by increasing or decreasing the size of the openings from the distribution channel to the various dosing tanks.

The siphons, particularly those serving Bed No. 1 and Bed No. 3, should be overhauled and put in a proper operating condition so that all the sewage in the dosing tank shall be discharged in one dose and not allowed to dribble intermittently for several minutes.

In a report dated July 23, 1921, the following recommendations were made:

1. That the by-pass allowing raw sewage to pass directly to the Hutchinson river be entirely sealed up or removed and if any overflow is deemed necessary, that an overflow be provided for the effluent from the settling tanks to be used only in case of emergency such as the breaking down of the pumps.

2. That the screens be cleaned regularly and as often as may be necessary to prevent their clogging.

3. That provision be made for the disposal of the screenings in a sanitary manner.

4. That the openings in the distribution channel discharging settling tank effluent into the dosing chamber be so modified that uniform distribution of the settling tank effluent over the sprinkling filters may be effected.

5. That the clogged sprinkling filter nozzles or risers be cleaned.

6. That a competent sanitary engineer be employed to design and prepare plans for a sludge drying bed for the proper disposal of sludge from the plant.

7. That the town authorities in charge of the sewage disposal plant employ a competent sanitary engineer to have charge of the operation and maintenance of the sewage disposal plant.

8. That the town authorities provide for a comprehensive survey of the town to determine from what sources water from catch basins, drains, or roof leaders may enter the sewer system and require the immediate disconnection of all such sources.

Copies of the report were sent to the local boards of health of the town of Pelham and the village of Pelham Manor, to the sanitary supervisor of the district and to the board of sewer commissioners of Pelham."

Source:  State of New York - Forty-Second Annual Report of the State Department of Health for the Year Ending December 31, 1921, Vol. I, pp. 308-10 (Albany, NY:  B. Lyon Company, 1922) (Legislative Document (1922), No. 27).

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