Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sewage spill soils the Bay

by Amy Alton, Communications Associate

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that approximately 720,000 gallons of sewage spewed into the Bay during last week's spill at the Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary District.

Not surprisingly, sewage spills are a health risk for both people and wildlife—touching, inhaling, or ingesting sewage-contaminated water can cause rashes, infections, and nausea and vomiting. And large amounts of sewage can also cause die-offs due to increased nutrient load as oxygen in the water is used to break down the influx of organic matter, causing fish and wildlife to leave, or even die.

This current leakage, in addition to the spills in Marin last year, are some of the largest sewage spills in recent years. But in reality, sewage spills happen quite regularly because the infrastructure is old and weak and significant investment is needed to repairs these lines and upgrade our plants.

While it's true that sewage spills can harm both people and wildlife, you might be surprised to learn that runoff pollution from our homes, cars, and neighborhoods poses a much larger threat to the health of the Bay. Check it out:

-- Each (car-owning) Bay Area resident contributes one quart of motor oil to the Bay from their cars every year.

-- When cars are washed on pavement or in the driveway, soapy water, motor oil, copper, zinc, lead and other heavy metals are washed down the storm drains – which bypass the wastewater treatment plants – and flow straight into creeks and the Bay.

-- Pharmaceuticals and mercury put down any drain contribute to Bay pollution.

-- A 2005 study found an average of three pieces of trash along every foot of streams that lead to the Bay.

-- Mercury from one thermometer can contaminate five million gallons of Bay water – the same amount of water needed to fill six Olympic-size swimming pools.

Click here to learn more about how YOU can prevent Bay pollution.

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