E.coli levels up near wastewater discharge site

By RICK WATSON
Posted 9/8/18

SUMITON – Local residents in Sipsey, Empire and Sumiton are complaining about what smells like raw sewage at the bottom of Pump Hill in Sipsey. The City of Sumiton has a sewage wastewater discharge …

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E.coli levels up near wastewater discharge site

Posted

SUMITON – Local residents in Sipsey, Empire and Sumiton are complaining about what smells like raw sewage at the bottom of Pump Hill in Sipsey.

The City of Sumiton has a sewage wastewater discharge point in that area. Residents have been posting on social media about the sewage odor for weeks in that area and reported the issue to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the Birmingham-based Black Warrior Riverkeeper, which is a non-profit watchdog organization for the river and its tributaries.

The Black Warrior Riverkeeper tested the river in that area this week. According to CBS 42's website on Thursday, Nelson Brooke with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper said Sutherland Environmental, which is an environmental testing laboratory, tested the water at the discharge site on Aug. 27.

Brooke told the station, "The bacteria, in this case e-coli, being discharged by the pipe was over 81 times in excess of permit limits. Meaning that effective treatment was not taking place at the Sumiton Lagoon."

He told CBS 42 the levels were well above the limit of pollutants the city can discharge into Mulberry Fork, as called for in ADEM's permit for dumping sewage. A monitoring regime set in place requires Sumiton to test water coming out of it pipes multiple times a month at a laboratory and submit the results to ADEM each month.

“What we’ve found from their monthly discharge reports is that Sumiton has reported zero violations of their bacteria limit for the past two years,” Brooke was quoted as saying.

The ADEM permit requires that sewage must be treated for pollutants at the Sumiton Lagoon site before being discharged into the river. 

Sumiton Mayor Petey Ellis said Friday when officials learned of the situation they contacted the city engineer and testing experts to go through the process to see what’s going on.

“We’re taking issue with the test results we received, because they are different from the ones we’ve been taking,” Ellis said.

He said they requested additional testing and the results were not ready at press time.

“We’re not taking this lightly,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it right.” 

Ellis said that there are penalties that will be assessed against the city if they are not in compliance. 

Social media posts say that there are feminine products and other things in the river, but Ellis said “We have seen no evidence of that yet.” 

The treatment facility in Sumiton has three lagoons and according to Ellis no solids are in the lagoons. The sewage solids are contained in a deep well within the system.

“Based on the design of our system, it should not be possible for the city to dump solids into the river,” Ellis explained. What goes into the pipes that lead to the river is treated wastewater which is tested and reported by the city on a regular basis.

On Friday Brooke confirmed the results to the Daily Mountain Eagle and  said that when officials tested the discharge site they did not see any solid in the area.

“What I did see was a tannish-yellow water with a nasty growth on the grouted channel they put below the pipe at the edge of the river,” he said. “This cascades off of the river bluff like a waterfall.”

He said the channel was filled with filamentous algae that was discolored white with bacteria. He also reported a strong smell of hydrogen sulfide gas.

“Such a gross violation of the permit is indicative of a pretty significant issue with treatment,” Brooke said.

The Warrior Riverkeeper plans to schedule a meeting with the Sumiton city officials to have a conversation about the path forward.

“Clearly something is wrong,” Brooke said.

The city will know if they are out of compliance once results are back from testing.

“If ADEM testing shows we are out of compliance, we will do whatever it takes to get back into compliance. It’s the law. We don’t have a choice,” Ellis said. “I live here just like everybody else does,” Ellis said.

He went on to say many stories are floating around on social media, but it’s hard to say whether it’s true or not.

“Once the results are back from ADEM, it is what it is. If we’re out of compliance, we’re going to go to work immediately to fix the problem,” he said.