By: Tom Duggan – May, 2011
A Full year ago, in May of 2010, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to Lawrence DPW Director Frank McCann informing the City of Lawrence that the EPA has first hand knowledge that the city was pumping wastewater (human waste) into the Shawsheen River.
According to documents obtained by The Valley Patriot, the EPA received complaints by members of the Shawsheen River Watershed Council and parents involved in the South Lawrence East Little League that the City of Lawrence has been dumping human waste into the Shawsheen River through a storm water drainage pipe that runs along the side of the ball fields behind the South Lawrence East School. The smell of human waste was often so strong as to overpower the children trying to play on the ball fields.
Members of the Lantigua administration declared within a month that the situation was “resolved” and Tennis Lilly, of the Lawrence Conservation Commission said that the culprits had been found “Kentucky Fried Chicken Bagle-Boy and at least one other business were dumping into the sewer system that should be resolved very shortly as the city is going to be tracking back through the pipes to resolve the problem.”
But The Valley Patriot has learned this month that the problem has not been resolved and sewage is still flowing into the Shawsheen River behind the South Lawrence East School.
The valley Patriot also learned this month that Lawrence DPW began digging at the old Kane School Gymnasium site off Osgood and Exeter Streets, just a few hundred yards from pipe that is contaminating the Shawsheen River in an attempt to find the problem.
“I’d like to know why it has taken over a year to fix this problem,” on Little league parent asked. “We’ve been smelling this stench since two summers ago when we first complained, they are just getting to this now?”
Members of the SLE Little League first noticed the foul odor of human waste nearly two months ago
In April of 2010, The Environmental Protection Agency sent an agent to the South Lawrence East School, which abuts the Shawsheen River and beneath which the huge drainage pipe seems to run, and took real time samples of the human waste water pouring out of the drainage pipe. After sending the samples to an independent laboratory, they determined that human waste water was indeed coming out of the pipe and being dumped directly into the Shawsheen River without any type of treatment.
“It poses a health hazard,” EPA enforcement official George Harding told the Valley Patriot. Harding said that the contaminated water flowing into the Shawsheen could cause illness to anyone whose skin comes into contact with the water because of E-coli and other contaminants being dumped into the river. It was apparent that school children routinely use this area as a shortcut.
“Right now we do not know the actual source of the contaminated waste water, but the city has hired an outside engineering consulting firm to test the water once a week during dry weather and to track back the source of the contamination. It could be anything from a city sewage pipe being illegally hooked into the drainage systems in that neighborhood, or it could be a leaking pipe that is somehow contaminating that line,” Harding said. “but we will not know the answer to that until they track back the source.”
The Shawsheen River runs through South Lawrence and into North Andover where it empties into the Merrimack River at Sal’s Riverwalk near Rt. 495.
Harding said that as far as he knows, town officials in North Andover were not notified by The City of Lawrence that human wastewater was flowing into the Shawsheen, posing potential health hazards running through North Andover. They have also not informed the town of North Andover that the problem still exists.
Harding sent his letter to DPW director McCann on May 3, 2010. The letter states that the issue must be resolved by May 28th. Harding says the city has not resolved the issue but even though the wastewater has been dumping into the Shawsheen for over two months, they did grant the city an extension to June 15th.
As of the time we went to print (June 8th) our reporters observed first hand that human waste water was still flowing into the Shawsheen (see photos).
Danger to Public Health in Lawrence and North Andover
George Harding from EPA said that people need to be careful when coming into contact with contaminated water. “Anytime you have sewage discharge there are pathogens in the water, our prime concern is, if people are coming in contact with water, canoeing, wading, fishing, or coming in contact with pathogenic organisms, the public’s health is at risk. How much risk depends on how much is being discharged. We won’t know what that is until the engineering consulting find the source.”