Holy, uh, Toledo: 10 million gallons of sewage flows into Elliott Bay; no swimming by spit

 You may recall reading that sewage may be the reason the bodies of some male English sole in Elliott Bay contain a protein normally produced by female fish to help egg yolks develop. And scientists guess that may be caused by hormones in women’s urine or birth control pills. With that as a backdrop, now comes this news: 

 An estimated 10 million gallons of raw sewage (a.k.a. “untreated wastewater”) was discharged through an emergency outfall about 500 feet off of West Point spit into Elliott Bay for nearly three hours before treatment plant operators were able to stop it about 1 a.m., the county reports on its web site.

 “This situation is unacceptable,” Christie True, director of King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division, said in the prepared statement. “Finding out why it occurred is the first step toward taking corrective measures so we can prevent it from happening again.”

 Spokesperson Annie Kolb-Nelson told PostGlobe: “We don’t really know why it did that.”

 “The question is why did the mechanical failure occur. We’re still looking.”

  The beach area where the outfall is located on West Point spit has been posted as closed to swimming, Kolb-Nelson says.

 “We don’t want people swimming or wading or having contact with the water…It is a public health concern,” Kolb-Nelson says. “Don’t take your dog romping out on the Sound. Don’t go wading,” even though “we live in the Northwest and people do use the water year-round.”

  The county’s environmental lab staff is sampling the water for bacterial counts. 

  No cleanup is planned.

  “We didn’t see any visible material, so there was nothing to clean up. That would usually be paper products, hygiene products, things people flush down the toilet,” Kolb-Nelson says.  “It’s really just a matter of the environment cleansing itself, and it will take some time do that, for the bacterial counts to return to normal.”

  A bit more from the county’s press release:

The overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment. Instead of being put on standby, the bypass gate was activated, resulting in the overflow. The cause of the gate failure is under investigation.

To protect public health and safety, the county posted the beach as closed, took water quality samples, and told health and regulatory agencies about the overflow.

Employees from the county’s environmental lab will monitor water quality in the area for the next several days.

The West Point Treatment Plant came online in 1966 and treats an average of 130 million gallons of wastewater a day for Seattle and several other cities and sewer districts in north and central King County. The plant can treat up to 440 million gallons of stormwater and wastewater during heavy rains.


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