North River Sewage Treatment Plant, USA

A case of environmental justice success in the USA; the campaign WE ACT forced the US government to address the issue of water treatment in the North River in Manhattan.


Since it began operating in April 1986, the North River Sewage Treatment Plant’s noxious emissions has been causing respiratory problems, among others, in the West Harlem community.

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Basic Data
NameNorth River Sewage Treatment Plant, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceNew York
SiteWest Harlem, New York
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe plant treats 125 million gallons of wastewater during dry weather, but can handle up to 340 million gallons during wet weather. [1]

The plant serves approximately 550,000 people on the west side of Manhattan. [2]

Plant was producing 28% higher than allowed levels of hydrogen sulfide [6].
Level of Investment (in USD)1,300,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population74,000-110,000
Start Date04/01/1968
End Date1993
Company Names or State EnterprisesNew York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from United States of America
Relevant government actorsNew York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersNatural Resources Defense Council, WE ACT
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
OtherExcess hydrogen sulfide leading to increased asthma among already high incidences of asthma ; noxious odors
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.While the plant was not closed, WE ACT forced the city to spend $55 million to address the issues, including the noxious odors from the plant. Additionally, the settlement provided them with $1.1 million to fund their work and address community concerns related to health and the environment.
Sources and Materials

What Sewage Treatment Plant? Many Riverbank State Parkgoers Unaware of Facility- DNA Info New York July 21, 2011 [1]
[click to view]

NYC Environmental Justice Analysis of North River Wastewater Treatment Plant May 28, 2013 [2]
[click to view]

WE ACT for Environmental Justice- History of WE ACT webpage [3]
[click to view]

Environmental Group Parties Atop Sewage Plant It Fought Against 25 Years Ago- Oct 2013 [4]
[click to view]

Place Matters- A joint project of City Lore and Municipal Art Society: Riverbank State Park, Popular park atop a wastewater treatment plant [5]
[click to view]

Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice by Julie Size [6]
[click to view]


Fire At Harlem Sewage Treatment Plant Forces Officials To Take It Offline- July 20, 2011
[click to view]

City park built to hide a sewage plant
[click to view]

NYC Environmental Protection: North River Wastewater Treatment Plant
[click to view]

Media Links

Riverbank State Park atop the waste water treatment plant
[click to view]

Other Documents

Smokestacks from wastewater treatment plant Smokestacks visible from the Riverbank State Park
[click to view]

Fire at the wastewater treatment plant
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015