Friday, February 8, 2013

LV Environment Bad Now.. You think?

Reposted from: June 27, 2010

The good ole' days!

I've been reading the local negative concerns regarding the quality of our parks, air and water. In my mind the glass is much more full then empty.

I certainly am aware with the huge growth in our neighboring suburbs there are environmental concerns that need be addressed. However, let use take a look back into just 62 years or so (over my lifetime) and see if we are less or more environmental sound.

Back when I was growing up, Allentown had a central city coal fired steam heat plant installed which heated many buildings downtown. As far as efficiency, well efficiency wasn't exactly something high on the scale of priorities. In the winter many streets didn't need plowing. The heat emanating from those steam pipes beneath melted a great number of blocks around Hamilton Street.

The way a city heating customer adjusted their heat was by raising or lowering a window. What's a thermostat?

The central steam plant was installed in 1888 and was in use till 1968. It was located at 23 South Hall Street. It was "coal" fired and had no pollution equipment what-so-ever.

Those who were not served by city heat mainly relied on coal. Trains delivering coal from up North would arrive at various coal storage yards throughout the city to unload. From there coal trucks plied the streets delivering coal down the chutes into 1,000's of basement coal bins.

The remaining cinders (coal ash) after the city burnt them were stored to later be spread on city streets in the winter. Just about every homeowner as well saved buckets of coal to put on their sidewalks. Before the snow throwers, shovelers used coal ash to finish the job on driveways.

I grew up on SW 27th street at the foot of S. Mtn. What we had out in front of our house was a dirt road. All of them were over there were at one time. In the winter coal cinders (ash) was used on them.

In the summer the city would come once or twice and spray oil on the roadways to keep the dust down. That's right, good old black petroleum muck with a good dose of used crankcase oil mixed in.

We open burned the trash and the leaves too!

Let's talk about water & sewer. We had a cistern where rainwater from the roof would flow into it from our downspouts. Now we chose to boil all our drinking water and were just fine. The neighbor in back didn't. As a result they wound up with a case of worms and on another occasion boils on their skin. Rather then boil water their solution was bleach. Gallons and gallons monthly they added to their water.

Then there's the sewer side. What sewer? Before septic tanks many of these homes just dug a big hole. In it they would throw rocks and then trench it out at the top as an overflow. You knew when it was full when the overflow trench leached up and emerged from below. Some would call honeydippers to come scoop them out. Others just hand dug a new hole somewhere else on their property. Few had concrete septic tanks.

In some other outlying areas those fortunate enough to live closer to the creeks and streams just ran a waste pipe from their toilets into them. Never mind farmer Joe downstream probably tapped into this same creek for his family's water supply. Still there were others who had wells were not too far down from someone else's septic field.

Oh by the way we too had a coal furnace.

Allentown, just like many other communities used to own the city garbage trucks. Allentown's trucks ended up on Allentown's Basin Street where the city incinerator would then burn the garbage they collected. Many cities around here had them as well. These trucks would back up to a hole in the second floor and dump into the flames below. As a kid, when I looked into the roaring fire below I thought it was hell. Nope, no chimney pollution equipment here either.

Now let's focus on the burgs. Just North of Allentown in areas like Bath, Whitehall, Cementon, etc. we had lots and lots of cement plants. You knew where they were because entire towns were coated in cement dust. Further North Coal dust was the order of the day.

Lest we forget good old New Jersey zinc down in Center Valley or it's smelting operations up in Palmerton. All of the above which either blew in the wind or were washed downstream.

The steel plant in Bethlehem used 100,000's gallons a water a day. Think about the three or four thousand workers that used the toilet facilities etc. Then perhaps one of you local historians out there may be able to find where Bethlehem's Steels' water treatment facility was located.

I say this in jest because I don't think they had one. But one thing I am certain, if you ask anyone who lived in Hellertown down by the old coke plant, the air wasn't sweet!

Also in the burgs at one time we had tons of farms. As a kid we'd swim in a creek in Macungie. It didn't even occur to us just upstream there was a cow pasture until our feet sank in cow poop two feet deep at the bottom. Talk about your nitrogen levels, but the sunnies (fish) just seemed to thrive in it.

Art (my friend) doubted that it was poop. He insisted rather optimistically that it was mud. It took Dave to scoop up a couple of handfuls from the bottom and heave them at us to make us conclude.. yep that's poop alright!

The area also had a number of pig farms as well that sold to the former A&B meats. Things weren't too sweet down wind from the numerous chicken & turkey farms either! Especially in Spring when farmers used to "spread" their fields.

Then there were the many area orchards that were spraying DDT into the air. Thusly the runoff from them into area creeks.

The state highway department for years used "agent orange" to kill the weeds alongside the local highways. Hey who knew!

Fortunately for us we had far fewer people then today. If we hadn't made the environmental progress we did, one can only imagine. Because of water lines and sewers, pollution equipment and the de-industrialization we fare much better then just 60 short years ago.

Can we use some more tweaking? Absolutely.

But if today's generation thinks this area was pristine and needs to be restored to what it once was, they are quite misinformed. While all is not perfect, it's certainly not an immediate crises.

Sometimes this valley just needs us old farts around to explain things.


  1. mr. old fart, let's not forget the smokestacks from dozens of industries burning who knows what...

  2. A truly thoughtful post.


  3. The good old days! I remember the pollution was bad enough to make an Indian cry. We have all done a great job on cleaning up. It really was bad back in the 1970's

  4. It was really bad back in the 1970's. I used to play all along Trout creek. I know the land well, nothing but trash and ashes. We all have done a good job of cleaning up.

    1. And there used to be that huge Hoffman's junkyard nearby.


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