Weeks after super storm Sandy ravaged the east coast, human waste continues to flow into the New York harbor courtesy of Newark’s sewage treatment plant.
Since receiving a 12-foot surge of water on October 29, the facility has pumped over three billion gallons of raw or partially treated wastewater into local waterways according to NBC New York.
Despite ongoing repair efforts, Mike DeFrancisci, director of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC), which oversees operations at the plant, could not say when it would be brought back online.
The PVSC is the largest sewage treatment plant in New Jersey, fifth largest in the nation, with 1.4 million customers across 48 northern New Jersey Counties.
Earlier this month, boaters and fishermen in the area were instructed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to avoid multiple waterways that were possibly contaminated including the Hudson, Hackensack, Passaic and Raritan rivers.
The New York Department of Environmental Protection also issued similar warnings to residents on the other side of the Hudson River.
In light of the warning, NJDEP Press Director Larry Ragonese tried to calm contamination woes among residents telling the Associated Press on Thursday, “It's not like an industrial plant that is dumping dioxins in the river that don't go away . . . These are materials that, while they aren't nice to see or smell, will eventually break down and dissipate.”
According to Ragonese, the NJDEP’s monitoring of affected waterways has seen a decrease in bacteria levels since the storm and is expected to return to normal once the plant is fully functional.
Local environmentalists, however, expressed doubt over exactly what materials were leaving the Newark treatment without first being treated.
“Human waste is hazardous to public health if you get exposed to it, but it's the hidden stuff that's mixed in with the sewage that normally gets pulled out at the treatment plant that isn't getting pulled out . . . If it was just household sewers it would be one thing, but we have to worry about all the other stuff,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan.
According to DeFrancisci, as repairs continue on the miles of pipes and chambers beneath the plant, the facility will be redesigned to better resist Sandy-like storms in the future.
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