By COREY KILGANNONOCT. 14, 2016
The New York Times
“The hardware is here,” Rob Buchanan said, wheeling in the trophies on Thursday night for an unusual award ceremony.
He was pulling a little wagon bearing a toilet seat painted gold and a toilet plunger painted silver.
“Let’s get this over with, so we can go back to drinking beer,” he said, officially kicking off the 2016 Golden Toilet Awards.
Mr. Buchanan coordinates a volunteer water-testing program for the New York City Water Trail Association, an advocacy group, and holds the awards each fall to honor, or really dishonor, the most polluted waterways in and around New York City. He also hand-paints the two trophies himself.
Whether given to Flushing Bay, Newtown Creek or the Gowanus Canal, these awards — the plunger goes to the runner-up — are no coveted achievements, but rather seats in an environmental hall of shame.
The awards are held at the end of 20 weeks of testing conducted by the Citizens Water Quality Testing Program, a volunteer group. Its members sample water at some 50 locations from Yonkers to Jamaica, Queens, and take them — by subway, by kayak, by a network of cyclists in Brooklyn known as the Pony Express — to Pier 40 in Manhattan or other testing sites throughout the city.
The samples are tested for fecal bacteria from sewer runoff — hence the toilet-themed awards — and the results are posted online, providing water-quality enthusiasts with data in addition to what is typically made available by government agencies. The levels often rise with rainfalls that exceed the capacity of treatment plants and cause sewage to flow directly into local waterways.
The awards have now been held five times. Last year, the winner was Flushing Bay, near La Guardia Airport, and the year before that, the Saw Mill River, which runs through Westchester County and empties into the Hudson River in Yonkers. The river regularly registers the highest pollution levels, but Mr. Buchanan awards other bodies of water to widen the spotlight.
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