Owls Head odor problem

Could plants clear air over sewage plant?

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A green pigment found in flowers could kill the foul odors coming out of a Bay Ridge sewage treatment plant, claims a Community Board 10 member who is so confident that his air freshener plan will work he’s willing to pay for it with his own Social Security check.

Allen Bortnick, who has spent years trying to find ways to kill the smells coming from the Owl’s Head Wastewater Treatment Facility near his home on Shore Road near 72nd Street, says that treating the tanks with chlorophyll will go a long way in sweetening the air.

“Chlorophyll is a chemical that eats rather than masks odors,” said Bortnick, 82, who claimed that Air-Wick used to sell a deodorizer made of plant juice that was more effective than any product the home fragrance company had sold. Air Wick didn’t return calls about why the product is no longer on the market. “You could just put a tub of chlorophyll out, and put some rags in it.”

Bortnick says he’s ready to fund the experiment out of his own Social Security check — but the city isn’t giving his plan the green light, despite lavishing $50 million on the park last year in a failed bid to clean up the stink.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Vincent Sapienza dismissed Bortnick’s green plan.

“We’re working on other solutions right now,” he said at the last CB10 meeting where Bortnick spoke of his idea.

Instead, Sapienza said the city was exploring traditional options like covering several of the tanks, moving more of the malodorous materials indoors, and cleaning the plant’s digesters.

But Bortnick does have an ally in a Kingsborough Community College professor who says the activist’s idea is ecologically sound.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if a plant could neutralize some of those odors,” said Dr. Patrick Lloyd, who teaches Analytic Chemistry. “If you’re trying to do things from a green perspective, it is something you could look into.”

Lloyd pointed out that road planners often line highways with chlorophyll-rich plants to soak up carbon monoxide and other toxins, and suggested that the city put green algae directly in the sewage tanks, or create an algae-lined cylinder to process the waste.

The professor said that Bortnick’s idea was sound, but claims the plan’s execution — which would entail setting up enormous open tanks of liquid chlorophyll — wouldn’t work in a large area like Owls Head.

“If you want to deodorize pet smells in your apartment, that’s one thing, but that’s another order of magnitude from deodorizing a Brooklyn neighborho­od,” Lloyd said.

The professor added that both plans wouldn’t be cheap to implement, and would certainly exceed Bortnick’s humble Social Security payments.

“We’re talking about a major feat of civil engineering,” he said.

Chlorophyll, a molecule responsible for absorbing sunlight and using its energy to produce foliage through photosynthesis, is used by vitamin and natural foods companies as an internal and external cleanser, but the last time researchers looked into the substance’s odor-busting muscle was in the 1950s — with unclear results.

The nearly 60-year-old Owl’s Head plant treats up to 120 million gallons of noxious sludge per day, and has long been a thorn in the side of its neighbors — even after older outdoor tanks were moved indoors.

In 2007, the city added covers on some of the tanks, and in 2008 it installed a “flare” to burn off excess gas — yet residents continue to complain.

“In the history of mankind, waste products have been a problem throughout the world,” resident Eleanor Petty told us last October as she complained about the smell coming from the Wastewater Treatment Facility “How is it that we cannot conquer this? I don’t understand why science or technology has not caught up with this.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at Follow him on Twitter at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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