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Connellsville residents warned to avoid sewage overflows

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 12:51 a.m.

Connellsville residents were warned at Tuesday night's public meeting to stay out of the Youghiogheny River near the combined sewage overflow signs during rainstorms and for about 36 to 48 hours after storms.

The meeting, hosted by the Connellsville Municipal Authority. was mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection to educate the public about the Clean Water Act and the authority's collection system and wastewater treatment plant.

Jerry Fox, plant superintendent, said residents could face health risks if they make contact with overflow water, which includes untreated sewage.

“It could have an impact on human health, ranging from something mild like ear infections (swimmer's ear) to more serious illnesses,” Fox said.

If someone swallowed the contaminated water while swimming near a combined sewage overflow shortly after a rain event, Fox said, it is possible that he or she could contract a gastrointestinal illness with symptoms similar to food poisoning.

Other diseases associated with waste water include hepatitis, cholera and typhoid, according to Fox.

“If contact is external — on the skin only — then a thorough washing with soap and warm water would be sufficient to kill any bacteria one has encountered,” he said.

Fox said DEP officials consider the Yough River Park area to be a sensitive area because it is a popular site for swimming, boating, rafting and fishing.

“We feel this is an area that most likely a person will become fully submerged in the water,” he said. “This is one area we want to make sure the public is aware of the combined sewage overflows.”

Fox said three combined sewage overlows are on Third, Sixth and Seventh streets. To protect the public, he said, an additional warning sign will be posted in that area.

Fox explained that the information is not intended to prohibit or discourage river recreational activities.

“This information is intended to inform the general public that the river and streams may be contaminated near these combined sewage overflows during and after a storm,” he said. “This is intended to let people know to take precautions to minimize water contact during these times.”

When the rainfall stops, Fox said, the overflow gradually stops and the river water quality returns to normal within 36 to 48 hours.

“The bacteria in the water usually dies off in 24 to 36 hours,” he said.

Fox said the authority's short-term goal is to keep the overflows to a minimum and to make sure they don't occur for an unnecessary reason.

The authority has implemented minimal controls for the system. Fox said the authority has a maintenance program for the sewer system in which routine cleaning and weekly inspections are completed to insure proper operation of the system.

Since the founding of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Fox said, a priority has been placed on the gradual elimination of combined sewage overflows nationwide.

Fox said the changes started with the largest cities and have gradually taken place in smaller communities.

“It is now time for cities the size of Connellsville to address their combined sewage overflows,” Fox said.

Doug Coffman, an engineer with Widmer Engineering Inc., the authority's engineer, discussed the Clean Water Act, the authority's combined sewage overflow monitoring project and past stormwater separation projects.

Coffman said the Clean Water Act of 1972 is a revised version of the Federal Water Pollution Act enacted in 1948. The Clean Water Act set a national goal to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters, with interim goals that all waters be fishable and swimmable when possible.

The municipal authority has 17 permitted combined sewer overflows in its system, according to Coffman.

Coffman said the municipal authority is performing a combined sewage overflow monitoring program. Drnach Environmental was contracted to install 52 flow meters for the project.

Coffman said the authority is using flows from the monitoring program to determine whether the system meets requirements set forth by the EPA for control of a combined sewer overflow system.

To help reduce the number of overflows, Coffman said the authority used a PennVEST loan for a project constructed in 2010-2011 to separate a majority of the storm sewer inlets in the city. The project installed 9,500 lineal feet of storm sewers and removed 67 storm sewer inlets from the sanitary system. The total cost of the project was approximately $1.5 million.

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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