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The Mast-Head: Sign of the Times

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 12:09

This is a column about poop trucks. At least that is what my kids and I called these liquid-waste haulers back when I drove them to grade school. Because we were living in Amagansett and they attended the Ross School in Bridgehampton and, for the older two at least, these were the days before ubiquitous iPhones, we had a lot of time to kill. So, in addition to listening to mid-2000s pop on the radio, we came up with the Car Game.

I am sure many parents have variants on the theme of getting points for things seen out of the vehicle windows on a trip. In our version, various kinds of vehicles were worth 5 points — police cars, school buses, Optimum vans, tree trucks — but a bonus 15 points would be awarded to the person who first spotted a poop truck. Fifty points were reserved entirely arbitrarily for the father of one of the kids’ schoolmates; we saw him exactly once, and the kids for years after talked about how excited I got.

Between Cranberry Hole Road and the turn onto the school grounds on Butter Lane, the kids and I could rack up 20 or more points each, while debating endlessly such important matters as what could be counted as an electric truck and who had first seen a “face truck,” that is, a truck with a human or animal’s face painted on it. But in those days, we might go a week or more between poop truck sightings. They were so rare that anyone lucky enough to cry out first would be the assured winner of the day. How life has changed.

Now, the so-called honey wagons are almost everywhere and can be seen any time. I don’t know why, but it is possible that increasing awareness of groundwater contamination from overflowing or outdated systems is more on people’s minds. Also, increased waste flow from businesses, particularly restaurants, contributes.

Another more worrisome possibility is that the subtle rise in sea level has also pushed groundwater higher in shore areas, meaning that older systems have less capacity before they back up and cause problems. Already, there are a growing number of studies that have looked at the relationship between sea level and changed water tables. One report found that for every meter of rise, land flooded from below could be expected to extend from 50 meters up to 130 meters inland from saltwater intrusion.

Whatever the cause or causes, there are far more poop trucks on the roads than there were a decade or so ago. What they are trying to tell us remains to be figured out. I seriously doubt that it will be good news.

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