Residents want help in sewage aftermath

Tainted dirt, broken
sidewalks and potholes
among their concerns

By jennifer dome
Staff Writer

Residents want help
in sewage aftermath
Tainted dirt, broken
sidewalks and potholes
among their concerns
By jennifer dome
Staff Writer

Residents of Sixth Street in Sayreville are worried that tainted dirt is posing a hazard to their children.

Several residents of the street came to Monday’s Borough Council meeting to listen to an update from the Middlesex County Utility Authority, whose March 2 sewer line rupture flooded residents’ yards with raw sewage.

The residents said they were not satisfied that the MCUA’s application of lime to their yards would diminish the presence of bacteria to normal, healthy levels.

"Children do eat dirt. As much as you tell them not to, they do," said Michelle Bardsley, a Sixth Street resident.

While MCUA officials have assured the residents that the levels of bacteria are being tested and that lime was applied to the area a second time on Sunday, residents are not impressed with the test results.

"I think for us to feel safe, you need to put new soil down," Bardsley said.

Mayor Kennedy O’Brien took down a list of eight concerns brought up by the residents. The 102-inch main break spilled more than 570 million gallons of raw sewage into the Raritan River after the flood was diverted from the Boehmhurst Avenue and Sixth Street area.

"We need peace of mind," O’Brien said.

Among the list of concerns the mayor recorded was the desire to have new soil for affected residents’ yards and the playground on Boehmhurst Avenue. Also, residents complained about the extensive damage to sidewalks in the area that they believe is a new phenomena since the flood of sewage.

"You talk about the children not being able to play in the park, but they can’t even ride bikes on the sidewalk," said Mike Passman, also a Sixth Street resident.

In addition to repairing the sidewalks, potholes and cracks were created on streets throughout the Sheffield Mews housing development as trucks moved to and from the area of the pipe break behind Boehmhurst Avenue, borough officials said.

An extensive discussion took place between residents, borough officials and MCUA officials over the validity of samplings to test bacteria levels in the soil on March 10. Borough officials and residents questioned how accurate the samples were since they were only taken from the top 2 inches of soil in the affected area.

Vajira Gunawardana, an MCUA environmental consultant from Najarian Associates, said that the largest amount of contaminants will be found in the surface soil since the bacteria levels decrease as they break down in the soil. He said that while the bacteria levels are higher than those found in non-affected areas, tests have shown that the levels are decreasing, whether from the two applications of lime that the MCUA has applied or from natural processes.

Council President Thomas Pollando stressed to MCUA officials that the council needed a response on how the utilities authority would handle their requests and concerns.

MCUA Executive Director Richard Fitamant said the authority would take the requests under advisement and respond to the mayor and council by the end of the week.

Fitamant also told the council and residents on Monday that the MCUA is "still investigating what actually caused the line to fail."

The authority is also trying to provide some relief to the shellfish industry, which has been prohibited from harvesting in the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers since the March 2 spill, which resulted in high levels of fecal coliform in local waters.

"Probably by next week the clammers will be able to go back to the Raritan Bay," Fitamant said. He added that the state Department of Environmental Protection will officially determine when the industry can return to the area.

The MCUA has imported clean salt water from the Barnegat Bay, Ocean County, to help clammers clean their shellfish at the Highlands and Sea Bright clam depuration plants.

Dick Maxson, a member of the Highlands Baymen Protective Association, has said that many area clammers have been working in Barnegat Bay or on the Manasquan River since they cannot clam in more local waters.

The most recent tests by the DEP, completed on March 15, showed a decline in fecal coliform levels. Both the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays tested below the FDA health standard, according to the DEP. The highest level of fecal coliform was reportedly found in the western end of Raritan Bay at 43 parts of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters, the DEP’s Web site states.

The DEP has also been concerned with possible viral and heavy metal contamination resulting from the sewage spill and has performed additional testing as a precautionary measure.

In order for the shellfish beds to be reopened, five consecutive sampling results must show that fecal coliform levels are below the FDA’s health-based standard of 88 parts per 100 milliliters. Tests must also reveal that metal levels are within the FDA guidelines and that levels of viral indicators are acceptable as well.