Valley Patriot readers will recall that last summer, residents living near the Shawsheen River reported the smell of raw sewage and a foul, cloudy discharge coming from a stormwater drain behind the South Lawrence East School.
In May of last year, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to Lawrence DPW Director Frank McCann informing the City of Lawrence that the EPA had first hand knowledge that the city was pumping wastewater (human waste) into the Shawsheen River. A story appearing in the June 2010 edition of The Valley Patriot detailing how members of the Shawsheen River Watershed Council and parents involved in the South Lawrence East Little League said the smell of human waste was often so strong as to overpower the children trying to play on the ballfields.
“The discharge was most prevalent after significant rain fall events indicating a “cross connection” between storm water and sanitary sewers existed somewhere,” Lawrence Conservation Commission chairman Tennis Lilly said.
“The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found itself short on manpower and unable to properly investigate the discharges and asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in. EPA field investigators found a significant discharge coming from the outfall pipe that was causing a bloom of bacteria along the floor of the river that resembled white cotton candy. The EPA ordered the city of Lawrence to take steps to immediately deal with the discharge and the city hired a contractor to investigate and locate the source of the pollution.”
A reporter from the Valley Patriot inspected the site in May of 2010 and took the photographs that accompany this story. Our reporter became physically ill before even gaining entrance to the area where the wastewater was freely flowing into the Shawsheen River.
“It poses a health hazard,” EPA enforcement official George Harding told the Valley Patriot. Harding said 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.
“While everyone expected to find an illicit sewer connection somewhere in the storm sewer line, none could initially be found,” Lilly added. “The sporadic nature of the discharges frustrated efforts to find the source as Massachusetts entered a drought in late summer.’
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 knew, town officials in North Andover were not notified by Frank McCann or the City of Lawrence that human wastewater was
flowing into the Shawsheen, posing potential health hazards running through North Andover.
Chairman of the North Andover Board of Selectman Tracey Watson audibly gasped when she was asked for a comment on the water contamination last June. “Are you kidding?” she asked after a long pause. When told that the human wastewater has been flowing into the Shawsheen since at least April, Watson was speechless and then became emotional.
“If the date of that letter is May 3rd like you say,” Watson told our reporter, “we should have been notified that day. That river runs right through North Andover and by the way, it empties into the Merrimack.
So, this waste is flowing right into that river that we worked so hard to clean up.”
Selectman Dan Lanen echoed Watson’s concerns. “I’m shocked that nobody from Lawrence bothered to pick up the phone and let us know that we had contaminated water running through our town. Town officials should have been notified.”
Selectman Watson said last week that neither she nor the the Board of Selectmen have ever been notified as to the status of the raw sewage being dumped into the Shawsheen “nobody has informed us that they have found the problem or that they are solving it,” she said. “We don’t know anything because nobody over there is communicating with us.”
But the City of Lawrence has, indeed found the culprits. Finally, after inspectors worked their way “up the pipe”, the culprits were finally discovered.
Conservation Commission Chair Tennis Lilly says that two businesses on South Union Street were found to be the culprits.
“The Bagel Boy bakery on South Union Street was found to be disposing its’ wastewater into stormwater drains instead of the sanitary sewer as required by law. Bagel Boy’s wastewater is rich in organic waste including flour and yeast which would provide a smorgasbord for bacteria to feed on. And, while DPW workers were investigating the Bagel Boy bakery, the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was observed dumping grease and cleaning products into their storm drains.
Lilly says that the DPW and Inspectional Services “met with both businesses and required them to take immediate steps to stop their illicit disposal of waste. Since these enforcement actions took place in early fall of last year, the outflow to the Shawsheen has been largely free of pollution, but more work needs to be done.”
“It remains a mystery why the worst discharges occurred after rain events, something that would usually indicate a cross connection between storm and sanitary sewers. Storm and Sanitary sewer lines run very close together at the Kane School site [where the South Lawrence East School is now located] and the possibility of another damaged pipe leaking into the storm sewer hasn’t been ruled out. More importantly, Bagel Boy and KFC need to keep their waste out of the storm sewer system. As with many environmental problems, the solution isn’t found in more regulation, it requires ethical decision making by stakeholders. Often, education is just as effective as punishment in solving problems,” Lilly said.
North Andover Selectman Watson said that she was “very concerned about the people of North Andover” and added that had she known about the situation when it occurred she would have taken steps to make sure the public was aware of the problem.
“When is the insanity [in Lawrence] going to stop,” she asked, with desperation in her voice.
“We had the illegal dumping down there (last year) and now this? When is someone going to go into that city and put a stop this kind of stuff? All I want is for Lawrence to succeed and be a vibrant city, but I don’ see it happening. I see it going backwards, it’s frightening. They need to inform neighboring communities when things like this happen and as of right now we still have not been informed by the Lawrence what is going on with our river.”