Dear PoP – Raw Sewage Day and Night


“Dear PoP,

Day and night, raw sewage seeps from a recently demolished building into an alley on the 800 block of Kennedy Street, NW, in Brightwood Park, causing the foulest stench to fill the air. This has been occurring nonstop since JANUARY. The unmistakable smell of sewage can be smelled all the way to 9th and Kennedy. While Council-member Bowser’s office has been helpful in trying to pressure the city to rectify this problem, it has gone on for far too long. Exposure to raw sewage has health risks that the city has not addressed with so much as a sign. I witness children and adults walk through this spill every day, not knowing what it is.

DCMud reported in January 2009 that 809 Kennedy NW was set for demolition:

New System Demolition and Excavation was reported to carry out the demolition.

New System Demolition and Excavation said that the owner of the building had been fined and it was their responsibility to clean and fix the issue — the owners did not pay NSDE what they are owed, so the city (DCRA) will be rolling out some sort of bidding process to get contractors to complete the work.

I spoke to the owners of several Kennedy Street businesses on Tuesday, March 24. One in particular said that his business had been damaged by fewer customers coming in to his restaurant due to the stench adjacent to his establishment. There is also a nagging feeling that our community is being ignored because it has a largely Spanish speaking, immigrant population.

On Wednesday, March 24, I made phone calls to the DC Department of the Environment, where I was referred to Bob Emwanta, and later to Sylvester Mode (pronounced moe-DAY) where I left a message.

I then made a phone call to Chris Davis at the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services, who said that he was currently awaiting a response from WASA on the matter. He, too, had experienced the stench first-hand after his office conducted “Operation Fix-It” in the community. I asked him to keep Robert Idlett from my councilwoman’s office in the loop as well.

And still the stench fills our block.”


Wow, this is completely unacceptable. Which agency should be pressured to get this fixed immediately?

41 Comment

  • Ahh, DC. Sometimes I yearn for rule by federal commissioners 😉

    And yes its because you’re an immigrant area, DC government services are not for everybody, you need the right connections and skin color for the most part. Sorry!

    • Get a few other neighbors together and organize a protest by blocking the street. Call the police first to let them know you are doing it or obtain a permit or something, call news media — they would love the story

  • It’s hard to be the ‘squeaky wheel’ when you don’t squeak in the same language as the guy with the oil can.

    and before I get flamed: all I’m saying is that Latino communities often suffer from a lack of an effective voice, because of the very real fact that a high percentage of them don’t speak English – or are distrustful of the government or fearful of calling attention to themselves.

    • True. That’s why some of the most effective community groups in cities with large immigrant populations have come out of communities. I live in a part of Brooklyn that is 40% latino (perhaps more) and we have groups like Make the Road which have built a strong network fighting for the neighborhood, fighting against exploitive employers, while also creating a space for learning and childcare.

      But this requires models within the large community of how this is done. (We have 100+ years of immigrant community groups in NYC to use a model.) Not sure that DC has the model of coming together through organizing at the community level in order to take on injustice at least not in a way that newer groups can point to past success of previous groups.

      Hell it doesn’t have to be even about immigrants, Park Slope is what it is today because of the work of groups in the 1970s coming together at the community level to create change in their neighborhoods: fixing schools, cleaning parks, registering voters, providing co-op daycare.

      Where is this model in DC?

      • Chris, you also have a more effective governance model there, ie your city agencies are not full of Barry-ites and their focus on doing only the minimum for people who they deem to be “real DC people” (ie black and born here), which also conveniently lets them do very little work. Rich (white) parts of town do get their attention because their city councilmembers battle for it. The rest of the city (latinos and non-black middle class and poor etc) are generally and happily ignored, with no real legal recourse possible. I’m sure the latino groups will increase in effectiveness over time as they learn to play the game, but the root of the problem is a racist and incompetent city administration which won’t phase out until enough of the Barry-ites are indicted or retired. See DCRA, DYRS, CFSA, and really any other agency. Note I think DPW is great 🙂

  • ah

    How is a vacant lot with a demolished buildilng generating sewage? Did WASA not cap the intake?

    • Old septic system?

      • ah

        Haven’t been allowed in DC in ages, but even so the sewage isn’t “raw” in a septic system after a few days. It leaches into the leaching field and gets absorbed. There’s no “fresh” sewage being generated on site, so either it’s not sewage, just run-off, or someone failed to shut off the connection to the sewer main. Not saying that couldn’t happen, between a vacant property owner and WASA you’re not dealing with lots of competence.

  • And people complain when I say DC is full of crap.
    That’s a shitty situation.

  • Is there a difference between raw and cooked sewage? Why the reference to raw sewage.

    • The difference is treated or untreated, I think. In my opinion, if it smells like crap, it’s crap. End of story. If this was in my neighborhood I would wig out.

  • I know for a fact that there have been repeated calls to the Mayor’s Command center by my agency and nothing has been done about this.

    As for this: “There is also a nagging feeling that our community is being ignored because it has a largely Spanish speaking, immigrant population.”

    Not quite. Kennedy Street is extremely mixed.

    • While the entire strip of Kennedy from first to 14th may be mixed, the area immediately affected by this spill is mostly Latino.

  • Sounds like you are really up shit creek with this situation

  • Report it to the EPA. When they start leaning on/fining WASA, it’ll get fixed in a hurry.

  • Get a few other neighbors together and organize a protest by blocking the street. Call the police first to let them know you are doing it or obtain a permit or something, call news media — they would love the story

  • Call the local news channels and then Jim Graham’s office and tell them what you’ve done. He will be there in a flash if there is a camera anywhere nearby.

  • Dear PoP,

    DC WASA is aware of the situation at 809 Kennedy Street, NW and has been in conversations with DCRA, DPW and the Mayor’s office about it since January 12. That day, our crew checked the construction site and determined that we have no sewer line under the property. 

    Essentially, old pipes in the area that used to be the basement of the demolished building are leaking. The problem is on private property, and there is no leak from the nearby public sewer lines that DC WASA maintains. We referred the matter last week to the Department of Public Works for a possible illegal dumping citation.
    Alan Heymann
    Director, Public Affairs
    District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority

    • Dear Alan,

      What is a citation supposed to do about the very real public health issue happening on this block?

      A man who has to live with the stench while DC government continues to pass the buck.

      PS – Bet YOUR block doesn’t smell like this.

    • lordscarlet

      If you checked it in January, why was it not reported to DPW until last week?

  • haha. nicely done.

  • Thanks, Alan, for filling everyone in on WASA’s efforts so far.

    We would have all liked to have seen this situation resolved more quickly. Unfortunately, there turned out to be several more complications than we expected. Allow me to talk everyone through the process from the time it came to my desk:

    Approximately two weeks ago, I received an email from a concerned Brightwood resident who was good enough to include pictures and detail the extent of the problem. I drove out that day and it was immediately apparent that the resident had not been exaggerating; the smell was pervasive and the mess unacceptable.

    The first step was to get DDOE (District Department of the Environment) on site to determine whether the mess constituted a threat to public health. They determined it did not constitute such a threat and we then asked WASA to inspect and determine the source of the leak. As Alan mentioned, WASA has no line directly under the leak, and they determined that the leak was not related to any WASA infrastructure. WASA advised instead that the source came from old piping and that the property owner was responsible, since there were precautions that should have been taken to prevent such a leak when the building that used to be there was taken down.

    Upon determining that this was a private issue, DCRA (the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs) became the lead agency. They then aggressively pursued the case, issuing notices of violations and preparing a plan to correct the issue themselves in the event that the owner chose not to cooperate. Mike Rupert from DCRA will come online shortly to post and provide us with more specifics on DCRA’s action to this point, as well as how they will be proceeding over the next few days.

    We appreciate everyone’s patience and input. Please understand that as quickly as we want to move sometimes, we have to abide by the law and follow due process.

    All are welcome to contact me directly for follow up questions.

    Corey Laplante
    Mayor’s Liaison for Community Relations and Services, Ward 4
    [email protected]
    202 340 8555

    • Corey, just out of curiosity, what would be the amount of constantly flowing shit in the street required before the mess would constitute a threat to public health? How is such a thing measured?

      I would be ashamed of myself were I you. Imagine if your mother had to live for three months at such a location. When they contacted you they were undoubtedly in need of drastic action, and you probably produced paperwork and excuses.

  • This is laughable [in a sad way] – there’s no way this would have been allowed to continue as long as it has if it occurred west of the park.

  • My partner and I walked to dinner at that restaurant a month or so ago and both remarked on that smell coming from that lot. As we left the restaurant, I was careful to point out the smelly grey water and cautioned not to step in it.
    I’m appalled to find out that it has been going on for so long. Thanks PoP once again for being a great community voice that will hopefully result in a speedy resolution.

  • We will have these pipes removed within the next few days as the owner has failed to take action himself. We cited the property owner immediately after this was brought to our attention last week for both the leak and the huge amount of debris left after the building was razed. While this doesn’t help the smell tonight, the liquid is stagnated water and not raw sewage so it’s smelly but not dangerous. Once the pipe is removed and the land stabilized, we will work on getting the lot cleaned up as well.

    Again, the owner has been unresponsive so we are moving quickly to get this fixed in the next few days. Sorry we can’t act faster, but we legally needed to give the owner time to fix himself. If we don’t, we end up spending tens of thousands in tax dollars to make repairs and wouldn’t be able to get anything back from the owner if we skip due process.

    Please email me at michael.rupert (@) if anyone has any questions or any other concerns. – Mike Rupert, DCRA

    • lordscarlet

      I don’t think people are upset that it has taken you a week to get to where you’re at. I think people are upset that it took 2-3 months for it to get to your desk in the first place. Corey’s comments begin 2-3 weeks ago. What happened in the two months prior to that?

  • Could you please explain a bit more? If “old piping” doesn’t connect to a sewer where does it go? If there is no WASA infrastructure – what is there? What is in fact “under the leak”? Where does a property owner go to find out what “precautions that should have been taken?”

    (As Alan mentioned, WASA has no line directly under the leak, and they determined that the leak was not related to any WASA infrastructure. WASA advised instead that the source came from old piping and that the property owner was responsible, since there were precautions that should have been taken to prevent such a leak when the building that used to be there was taken down.)

    • Victoria,

      Before a raze permit is issued, we require all utilities sign off that electrical, sewer, water, gas, etc. have been disconnected and all connections removed away from the “raze zone.” All debris including pipes, wires, bricks, wood, etc. should have been removed and the land graded. Unfortunately, the owner did not complete this process.

      In terms of what is under the leak, we’re not sure but have been told it’s stagnant water. We have contractors looking at this now and will have it fixed over the next few days and will get the lot cleaned up once that is complete. I’ll emphasize again that it has been tested by multiple agencies (as recently as last Thursday) and determined to be stagnant water and not sewage and not a health hazard.

      – Mike

  • The water is running, not stagnant.

    There is no way that something which smells like shit isn’t a health hazard.

    If it’s so safe, come down here and have a taste.

    You are despicable.

  • By “you” being despicable I mean the DC Government in general. I’m sure you’re just doing your job. BUT I LIVE HERE. People run businesses here. There is no way that this would have gone down in Tenleytown.

  • Sorry for the triple post….. it’s also ridiculous that I have to find out news about this situation from the comments section of a blog when clearly at least one agency which has posted has my contact information and should have notified me directly.

    You people are a piece of work. And I mean that sincerely.

  • I saw the news story on NBC4 this morning (Tues.)

  • I hope we continue to get updates on this, its just inexcusable. Please Rashid or anyone else keep posting here with info…

  • And DCRA expects us to believe that the Certificate of Occupancy and permiting process to rent out rooms in our houses will be easy, fair and efficient.

    Hah. I laugh at you all and DCRA in particular and feel sorry for the job you have to do. Reallllyyy makes me want to buy a house and start a business here in DC.

    Hear that squeak? It’s the wheels of the DC government slowly cranking away as the hampsters in them try to figure sh*t out.

    • We had a contractor out there today who began working to remove the rubble and fix the water issue. They will be there all week to remove the debris and ensure the property is clean.

      Nick, if you have a specific issue or something we are not doing for you quickly enough, email me immediately at michael.rupert (at) and we can solve the issue right now. I have personally helped 10 people this week get their apartments rented after years being “scared” about the process.

  • Sounds like there is some misdirected anger here. You guys should angry at the property owner, who shirked his duty to responsibly demolish the property responsibly. I sure hope that DCRA holds him accountable for this mess.

    According to the DC tax records, the owner is:

    501 CHURCH ST NE STE 117
    VIENNA, VA 22180-4734

    A quick Google search and you can see that the weasel is Deeds Realty Services, LLC. They are a property management and commercial real estate investment firm.

    Website is here:

    You should give Richard Deeds, the owner and president, a ring at (703) 255-6629 and let him know how you feel about the excellent work he is doing with the property he owns/manages on Kennedy Street.

    • While I am all for harassing the guy, I think its the governments responsibility to act on complaints by residents and failure-to-comply by the owner. This was first reported in January (see above). If residents are supposed to take the law into their own hands, I want my tax dollars back. Then I’ll start filling potholes and cuffing thugs as well.

      Now, off to fill up bottles with this sludge and mail to Deeds, Alan Heymann, Corey Laplante, Mike Rupert, and Muriel Bowser!

      • For what it’s worth, Muriel Bowser’s office was very responsive. Unfortunately, they can’t make the rest of the DC government act right.

        As I type this (for those of you who wanted an update), I can verify that NSDE (as noted above) is the contractor who is currently completing the work. Since they have moved the dirt and debris around, you can see pretty huge pools of gross water on the site.

        As I said above, I contest what the city says about it being safe. Even if what we saw before was stagnant water (it was clearly running), even stagnant water is not risk free.

        I did want to report that I saw something interesting earlier this week on the first day of the continued demolition and debris removal: two plainclothes men who were not driving DC Government vehicles took samples of the water with an old coke bottle and an old water bottle. I do not know who these men were.

        If the city deemed the water safe already, I’m curious why anyone else would “need” to take samples at all.

        And to one of the posters above, I agree that the owner of the property should indeed be put on blast. I wouldn’t have discovered everything else that I learned if I hadn’t known who the owner was. But I also agree with the poster under you who said that his actions don’t forgive the city’s poor response to this issue.

        NO physical action was taken until this was on Channel 4 news, this blog, and on my facebook page.

        January, people. Neighbors had been complaining about this since before I moved in. My complains shouldn’t be treated with more weight just because I have a college degree, speak without a Spanish accent (much less a DC accent), and have internet access. Any neighbor with a phone should have been treated just as I was.

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