As if loss of air conditioning and refrigeration weren’t bad enough, widespread power outages in hurricane-battered Florida are teaming with structural failures to cause another headache: sewage overflows.
Local governments have submitted well over 100 “notices of pollution” to the state Department of Environmental Protection since Hurricane Irma struck, some involving multiple spills and releases of millions of gallons of wastewater in various stages of treatment. Officials in many cities were still scrambling Thursday to determine how much sewage had escaped, while the state warned people to steer clear of standing water.
“Floodwaters may contain not only bacteria from sanitary sewer overflows but other potential contaminants from agricultural or industrial waste,” environmental protection department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said.
About 6 million gallons of wastewater was released from a plant on Virginia Key near Miami during a seven-hour power outage overnight Sunday that disabled its pumps — one of seven spills reported by the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department. The water had gone through most of the treatment process but hadn’t been chlorinated, spokeswoman Jennifer Messemer-Skold said.
Officials advised people not to swim at Miami-area beaches until waters could be tested for a variety of pollutants.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed teams to help state officials assess damage to wastewater and drinking water systems.