When inspected by the union’s Health & Security Department and Local 983, conditions at the temporary location of the NYPD Bronx Tow Pound include puddles of standing water and overflow of sewage at the facility. There are areas with extensive plant overgrowth, including where it blocks the employee entrance of the trailer where members deal with the public. Photos: Eduardo Rosario, DC 37 Safety & Health Department, and Marvin Robbins, Local 983
By MIKE LEE
“It’s dusty—dirty. This site has been a regular hellhole since day one.”
That’s how Marvin Robbins, Local 983 First Vice President, described the working conditions at the New York Police Department’s Bronx Tow Pound in University Heights.
“As soon as the workers arrive at the site, they are filthy and the poor air conditions are causing problems for members with respiratory issues,” Robbins said. “It’s like being assigned to a sewer.”
The NYPD Bronx Tow Pound, a temporary location narrowly sandwiched between the tracks of MetroNorth’s Hudson Line and the Bronx River, has had health and safety issues since it was created.
The temporary yard was opened to replace the Tow Pound on Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx. Since then, more than 60 workers — members of Local 983 and Local 1549 — have been plagued by the stench coming from septic boxes for the worksite toilets.
Along with the overwhelming foul odor, the pound has a rodent and feral cat problem and considerable weed overgrowth throughout the work area.
Fed up with the inundated septic system and its overwhelming odors, as well as the veritable forest of weeds and other plant overgrowth that made it difficult for workers to function safely at their jobsite, Robbins approached the DC 37 Safety & Health Department and requested assistance.
On June 20, Eduardo Rosario, Principal Program Coordinator at the DC 37 Safety & Health Department, along with representatives from DC 37, Local 983, and the NYPD, thoroughly inspected the Tow Pound.
What he discovered shocked him.
“A Latrine-Type System”
“What they call a septic system is not a septic tank. Instead, I equate it to a latrine-type system,” Rosario said. “When speaking to management and responding to my information requests, it became obvious that they didn’t grasp what a septic system is.”
Rosario explained that without a drainage field, there is no place for liquid waste from septic tanks to be led away from the worksite unless the tanks are regularly pumped out.
“The maximum capacity for a septic tank grid can be up to 1,200 gallons. But at the site, they just have these boxes; some hold 150 gallons, others hold 300,” Rosario said.
He discovered that the Tow Pound contracted a pump company to stop twice a week, but the truck was only coming once a week on Wednesdays.
“They’re supposed to drain the effluent, but the truck’s capacity was not large enough to empty the 26 tanks on-site,” Rosario said.
He further explained that the trucks can only hold 1,200 gallons, while Tow Pound tanks could have as much as 3,750 gallons, adding that the boxes containing waste were too small to keep the proper chemicals to kill bacteria and control the stench.
During the inspection, the City admitted that sometimes the trucks arrived already half full and unable to pump out all the waste from the site.
During the inspection, the DC 37 Safety & Health Department quickly concluded that the septic issue created an unhealthy, unacceptable work environment. The effluent in the septic tanks are biohazards harboring infectious agents with decomposing waste, creating an atmosphere that allowed less oxygen for workers and a potentially dangerous safety situation from methane gas produced within the tanks.
The Safety & Health Department concluded the City had violated the Citywide Bargaining Agreement in failing to provide a clean, structurally safe and sanitary workplace. In addition, the City failed to provide a workplace free from hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm to workers, as per the General Duty Clause of the New York Department of Labor.
Plant Overgrowth, Garbage, Pests
To add to the hazards experienced by DC 37 members at the jobsite, there was considerable overgrowth of plants and weeds throughout key areas of the Tow Pound.
Workers complained of extensive plant and vegetation growth, including weeds, that made the employee entrance to the Redemption Trailer inaccessible.
“The stairs leading to the employee entrance at the redemption trailer were so utterly overgrown that no one could use them,” Rosario said. “Both sides of the Tow Pound are overgrown with vegetation, plants, and weeds, making it a perfect environment for rats, mice, and snake infestations.”
In the process of resolving the problem with the overgrowth, the City began clearing brush and debris around the Bronx Tow Pound site.
“You notice the trash in the vicinity,” Rosario said. “It is unbelievable the amount of garbage people throw away without care. The site is next door to a concrete manufacturing plant and a metal recycler. The exterior road that leads to the Tow Pound is just horrible. It’s truly horrific.”
Upon clearing, it was discovered the area was a habitat for Spotted Lanternflies, an invasive species that since its introduction into the United States more than a decade ago has been damaging plants throughout the Eastern Seaboard.
“You sometimes take care of one problem and end up with another,” Rosario said.
Deborah Williams, DC 37 Safety & Health Director, said conditions at the new Bronx Tow Pound are “disgusting and deplorable. We thought the conditions at the old site on Bruckner Boulevard were terrible but this is untenable.”
The NYPD is working with DC 37 and the impacted locals to address each concern.
“At the end of the day, our members need to be relocated to a safer, healthier environment,” Williams said.