Assessment of Flooded Greenfield Sewer Plant Begins; Health Officials Warn of River Pollution
Flooded pumps shut down secondary treatment of municipal sewage; no telling how long it will take to drain the plant and repair the machinery.
By MARY SERREZE
WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS — Public works officials in Greenfield are scrambling to assess and repair the city’s battered wastewater treatment plant, which has been discharging raw sewage into the Deerfield River, a tributary of the Connecticut River, since Sunday.
Yesterday, even as remedial measures were being put in place, the plant’s chief operator told Northampton Media there is still much work to perform before the facility, which processes on average 1.34 million gallons of wastewater a day, is fully up and running.
As a result of the spill, public health officials are telling people in communities as far downstream as Longmeadow to stay out of the Connecticut River.
The Greenfield plant, located at 384 Deerfield Road, failed Sunday when inundated by floodwaters brought on by Tropical Storm Irene. For about 48 hours, the floods prevented workers from getting inside the facility to assess damage and put emergency measures in place.
But workers were finally able to get in to the plant on Tuesday, said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Catherine Skiba. And partial treatment has been restored: at least the gravity-fed influent is being treated with chlorine.
“Some preliminary and primary treatment processes are back on line,” Skiba said on the telephone. “We’re seeing some progress — but this is a very fluid situation.”
Plant’s Top Operator Says the Plant Repairs Won’t Happen Quickly
Outside the facility Tuesday afternoon, Plant Operations Supervisor Mark Holley said that the system’s primary pumps, located below-ground, were still underwater. These pumps are a needed to complete the required secondary treatment of the town’s wastewater, he said.
Floodwater is now being pumped from the building through a six-inch pipe by a diesel engine, Holley said, adding that it is a process that will take more than a few days.
In addition to chlorination, Holley said, non-biological solids are now being screened, and primary settling of other solids is back in place. But until the water is pumped from the building’s two underground floors, damages assessed, and repairs made, he emphasized, no secondary treatment can be performed.
Various secondary treatments, including aeration, are necessary if effluent is to meet pollution standards set under NPDES, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, a program administered by the U.S. EPA and promulgated by the Mass. DEP.
This is the worst flooding the plant has ever seen since it was built in 1974, Holley said.
Greenfield Public Works Director Sandra D. Shields and Greenfield Mayor William F. Martin did not respond to our requests for comment. “We’re flat out,” said a public works administrator on the telephone.
The DEP, the Town of Greenfield and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) are conducting a coordinated response to stop the discharge and get the plant back on line, said a Mass. Dept. of Public Health press release.
The plant is located near the confluence of the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers next to the Meadows Golf Course and the town’s Green River Park.
Stay Out of the Mill and Connecticut Rivers, City Health Director Warns
State and local public health officials issued a health advisory today telling people to avoid swimming, kayaking, canoeing, wading, or fishing in the Connecticut River in municipalities below the failed Greenfield plant.
And Northampton Public Health Director Ben Wood went one better, recommending that people stay out of the Mill River as well. “The recent storms have greatly increased the risk of biological and hazardous chemical releases into the Mill River,” he wrote in a press release.
The Northampton Board of Health will be posting “No Swimming/No Boating” signs along the Connecticut River.
Wood said he saw people kayaking in the Mill River yesterday. “Not a good idea,” he remarked. “We’re telling people that if they go into the river, they’re doing so at their own risk.”
The city does not conduct water testing of the Mill River, but bacterial spikes and other pollution discharges are common after heavy rain and flooding events, Wood said.
The high bacteria levels associated with sewage discharge can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, respiratory problems, and irritation of the eyes and skin, state public health officials cautioned.
Skiba said the DEP started collecting samples from the Connecticut River to test for bacteria levels today, but that results were not yet available.
“It’s not just the Greenfield plant,” she said. “That’s a known impact. But there are other, unknown pollution impacts that haven’t been assessed. We’ll get a better picture as the waters start to recede.”
The chemical and biological river water pollution impacts of Tropical Storm Irene are still unknown, concurred Wood.
“We don’t know what’s in the water right now,” he said. “People need to take precautions.”
© 2011 Northampton Media
Mary Serreze can be reached at email@example.com