October 10, 2002

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Faulty waste treatment linked—

Sewage from plant pollutes waters of Massie’s Creek

Massie’s Creek, a popular creek that winds through the Indian Mound Reserve Park in Cedarville and empties into the Little Miami River south of Yellow Springs, is currently seriously polluted with human waste, according to recent EPA test results.

“The fact is that raw sewage is rolling down the stream,” said Bruce Cornett of the Green Environmental Coalition on Tuesday. “The issue is that this is against the law. Somebody’s responsible and they need to stop it.”

Test samples taken last Friday by the regional office of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed a bacteria count of 44,000 bacterial colonies per 100 milliliters of water, according to Bruce Smith, environmental specialist in the EPA’s Division of Surface Water. The acceptable level is approximately 1,000 colonies, he said.

“This is an extremely elevated count,” said Smith. “It’s nowhere near what we have as a standard.” The tests were taken 100 yards downstream from the Cedarville wastewater treatment plant, which is located adjacent to Indian Mound State Park. The bacterial count taken from a sample upstream of the treatment plant was 105 colonies, said Smith.

The high bacterial count was no surprise to those who live on Massie’s Creek, according to Elizabeth Mersky, who has lived beside the creek for 20 years. A month ago, said Mersky, she first noticed the smell of sewage, and was alerted by friends who frequent Indian Mound State Park to “black, dark-grey water with solid waste and toilet paper” coming out of the pipe into the creek at the park. (See Other Voices column, page 4)

At the park, the creek is well-used, said Mersky, and is a popular place for hiking and fishing. Although she and others contacted local health and environmental officials repeatedly over the past month, she said, no action was taken until the EPA’s test last Friday. In the meantime, there have been no signs warning people not to use or walk in the creek.

“It’s unbelievable to me that this is knowingly going on. I’m very upset that no one has warned or notified us,” said Mersky, who said she has warned her neighbors who, like herself, have wells located near the creek.

On Tuesday Deborah Leopold, director of Environmental Health at the Greene County Combined Health District, said that the department received notice of the EPA test results that morning. She stated that she and other health officials were meeting that day to determine whether or not to post warning signs.

Coming into direct contact with human feces can cause health problems, said Leopold, who stated that feces carry bacteria as well as viruses.

The contamination became noticeable the same time Cedarville University students returned to classes at the beginning of September, said Smith, who believes the contamination resulted from the Cedarville wastewater treatment plant’s inability to treat the increased volume of flow when school is in session.

“We’ve known for some time that the treatment plant is inadequate, and there has been some momentum to correct the situation,” he said. “But it’s never been this bad.”

When school is out of session, the Cedarville plant treats the flow of the village’s 2,100 residents, said Smith. When school is in session, the number is increased by approximately 3,000 students.

The treatment plant’s overseer, the Greene County Department of Sanitary Engineering, submitted to the regional EPA office a plan for the construction of a new Cedarville plant about two years ago, said Smith, who stated that the plan was held up because the sanitary engineering department’s application for a low-interest loan required considerable paperwork.

“It was not an apparent crisis,” said Smith. “In hindsight, that was not the best judgement.”

The treatment plant’s ongoing deficiencies may have been exacerbated by the opening this year of two new Cedarville University dormitories, which added 300 students to university housing, said Smith. According to the Cedarville University public relations office, the students are a combination of new students and underclassmen who in previous years might have lived off-campus, but are now required to live on-campus.

There is only one long-term solution to the contamination, said Smith, and that solution is the construction of a new treatment plant. While the agency will move ahead “expeditiously” with that plan, it will probably be 18 months to two years before completion, he said.

In the meantime, “we will continue to operate the facility the best we can with what we have,” said Jeff Hissong, Director of Sanitary Engineering for the Greene County Department of Sanitary Engineering. “We’re not ignoring the situation. We’re doing the best we can do.”

But continuing business as usual at the Cedarville treatment plant should not be considered an option, said Cornett. “There’s only one solution and that’s to cut down the flow. If it means closing down dorms at Cedarville, that’s what needs to be done.”

If the present situation continues, said Cornett, “Someone will take the initiative to see what the courts have to say.”

For Liz Mersky, the current situation at Massie’s Creek is unacceptable.

“I don’t care who did it or why, I just want it to stop,” she said. “I don’t want people hurt. And this is an incredible wildlife area. Animals are drinking this water.”

—Diane Chiddister