Sewage

Morguefile

LANSING – State officials say billions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage were dumped in Detroit area rivers and streams after flooding from heavy rains earlier this month.

Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Laura Verona tells The Detroit News for a story Friday that about 46% of the nearly 10 billion gallons of sewage released Aug. 11 by water treatment facilities was raw, diluted or partially treated sewage.

The state agency has put together a preliminary report on the sewage release.

Combined sewers and retention basins in some communities in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties overflowed due to the Aug. 11 storm. Some areas received more than 6 inches of rain. Water from the storm left parts of freeways flooded and damaged thousands of homes.

user greg l / wikimedia commons

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - East Lansing has arranged for wastewater treatment plant employees to be tested for mercury poisoning after a November spill was disclosed last week.

The Lansing State Journal reports the city is investigating how the spill occurred and why it wasn't immediately reported. Public Works Director Todd Sneathen says he interviewed workers Monday and arranged for tests for as many as 16.

The state says a call to a pollution tip line reported at least 1.5 pounds of mercury spilled.

Sneathen says the city learned of the spill on Thursday when a group of plant workers came forward and requested a meeting.

Sneathen says workers used a vacuum to clean up the spill.

Jim Wilson, Ingham County's environmental health director, says officials found high levels of mercury inside the vacuum.

user: Soil Science / Flickr

You're about to read something you might not want to spend much time thinking about, but that doesn't mean it's not important. 

That subject is septic fields. Of the 1.3 million wastewater treatment systems in Michigan, nearly 10 percent have failed. That's about 130,000 systems. 

With thousands of failing septic systems throughout the state, what's that doing to our water?

Michigan is the only state in the Union that doesn't have uniform standards governing how on-site sewage treatment systems should be designed, built, installed and maintained. 

Jeff Alexander recently examined the state of Michigan's septic fields in an article featured in Bridge Magazine

Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty spoke with Alexander about what scientists at Michigan State are finding.

For those unsavory details and more, click the audio link above.  

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Running the country's largest wastewater treatment plant is not easy.

You've got to treat more than 700 million gallons of 'who-knows-what' every day.

In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department wasn't complying with federal Clean Water Act laws. That's when federal oversight over the department began.

That oversight ends today, according to federal judge Sean Cox.

From the blog DWSD Update:

(Courtesy of the East Bay Municipal Utility District)

A coalition of union and environmental groups says it’s time for the federal government to invest more money in the nation’s aging water and sewer lines.    

The group points to the city of Lansing as an example. The Laborers’ International Union of North America says it would cost more than $280 million to fully repair and replace the capitol city’s aging water lines. It  estimates the cost statewide would be in the tens of billions of dollars. 

The union’s Ben Lyons says water systems everywhere are failing.  

Julie Grant/The Environment Report

by Julie Grant for The Environment Report

When Ernie Runions took the job as maintenance manager at the Senior Citizens Housing Center in Louisville, New York, he didn’t realize how much time he’d be spending in this small room. The water room. It’s filled with water tanks and filters. Runions says the equipment cost about $25,000 and the price tag keeps rising.

“It’s in terrible shape. It keeps falling apart. Every time we fix it, it’s $5,000, $3,000. This place is right in the hole because of that.”

We fill a bucket with the nursing home’s water – before it’s gone through the extensive filtering.

It smells bad, like eggs and iron. It’s got a blackish tint, and it’s got black particles floating in it.

Runions says even after the filtering, the elderly residents don’t want to drink it. It’s high in sodium, which can be bad for their health. And it smells like chlorine, which Runions uses to kill bacteria.

“And they complain. They say the chlorine is making me itch, all the extra chlorine. I’ve got red blotches all over my body, and my doctor says it’s the chlorine from the building.”

Town leaders say that until a few years ago, everyone used well water. And most people had some kind of problem with it. Nearly half the wells tested had coliform bacteria contamination – some suspected sewage was seeping into the wells.

Alliance for The Great Lakes

A couple of summers ago piles of trash washed up on the beaches of Lake Michigan from Pentwater to Portage. A federal investigation confirms the trash came all the way from Wisconsin.

The trash included medical supplies, small plastic pieces, chunks of wood; even whiskey bottles. Many beaches were closed at the time because of the trash.

Volunteers with the Alliance for The Great Lakes first reported the trash in 2008 and 2010 when they were out doing normal cleanup work.

"We’ve had many people in Michigan contacting us and asking ‘what ever happened about that?’ said Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program Manager for the Alliance.

user ardee4 / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver an address in Southfield tomorrow on improving roads and other infrastructure.

Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s communications director. She said the address will touch on a wide variety of topics that are critical to improving the state’s economy and protecting public health.

Growing the region's clean economy

Jul 21, 2011
Photo courtesy of Geoff Horst

The clean economy is touted as a future economic driver of the region. But a new report shows that while Ohio and Illinois have added jobs to the clean economy, Michigan is the only state to have lost them. Changing Gears visited one scientist in Plymouth, Mich., who’s trying to nudge that number back up.

user greg l / wikimedia commons

From the Associated Press:

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy has canceled an Earth Day program scheduled for Saturday after more than 600,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into wetlands near the event's Kalamazoo-area location.

Conservancy workers discovered the leak Thursday and a cleanup was under way Friday. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that vandals caused the spill by blocking a sewer line with several logs.

Sue Foune of Kalamazoo's Public Services Department says lime has been scattered to destroy bacteria. She says the wetlands will absorb and treat the sewage and there should be no long-term
effects.

But conservancy stewardship director Nate Fuller says nutrients in the sewage will boost invasive cattails that the group has been trying to remove.

The vandalism was reported to police.

Patrick Brosset / Flickr

Can a judge determine what happens when you flush your toilet? A case before the Supreme Court may decide that very question.From the AP

The Michigan Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide if local governments can be ordered to install a sewer system when private septic systems fail and spoil a lake, a case that centers on Lake Huron and a five-mile stretch in the Thumb region.

State regulators want Worth Township to install a sewer system, but an appeals court last year said the township isn't responsible for the problems of private property owners.

Some septic systems are failing in an area between M-25 and Lake Huron in Sanilac County, 80 miles northeast of Detroit. Waste is being discharged into the lake and its tributaries, and the lots are too small to build new systems.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court narrowed the issue: Does state law allow regulators and the courts to demand that a township install a sewer system when a lake is contaminated?

Township attorney Michael Woodworth said he's not surprised that the justices agreed to take the state's appeal.

"The case is one of statewide significance," he said. "There have been (local governments) that did not challenge the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality. What surprised the DEQ in this case is the township stepped back and said, 'Wait a minute.'"

Worth Township seemed ready to build a new sewage system as recently as 2008, but the cost kept them from proceeding.