Peggy Wallace walks near her flooded neighborhood in Davie, Florida, on 7 June 2017. With Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, an Associated Press analysis shows that the number of federal flood insurance policies written in the state has fallen by 15 percent. Photo: Lynne Sladky / AP

By Emily Atkin
14 September 2017

(New Republic) –  In the days and hours before Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida, its residents were treated to copious media speculation about nightmare scenarios. This monster storm, journalists said, could bring a 15-foot storm surge, blow roofs off of buildings, and cause tens of billions of dollars in damage. But perhaps no scenario seemed more dire than the one Quartz warned about the day before Irma made landfall: “Hurricane Irma will likely cover South Florida with a film of poop.”

Quartz’ apparent hyperbole turned out to be an understatement. Pollution reports submitted to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection show that, due to power outages and flooding caused by Irma, human waste has been spilling into streets, residences, and waterways across the entire state. At the time of this article’s publication, at least 113 “Public Notices of Pollution” had been submitted to the DEP. Combined, those discharge reports showed more than 28 million gallons of treated and untreated sewage released in 22 counties. The total amount is surely much more; at least 43 of those reports listed either an “unknown” or “ongoing” amount of waste released, and new reports continue to roll in—sometimes as many as a dozen per hour.

In other words, Irma was a literal shitstorm. But it’s no laughing matter. Sewage spills pose a major threat to public health, and they’re likely to become more common due to two increasingly connected crises facing America: an aging infrastructure and climate change.

The spills in Florida range from benign to revolting. In some cases, a few hundred gallons of raw sewage burst from manholes into non-flooded areas and were quickly cleaned up. But in Miami, the city’s South District Wastewater Treatment Plant reported a six-million-gallon sewage spill that reached Biscane Bay, a state aquatic preserve. While the report said the area was cleaned and disinfected, it also says the public was not notified and the sewage was not recovered. In Seminole County, north of Orlando, a sewer overflowed for six hours, spilling two million gallons. More than 300,000 gallons flowed into Stevenson Creek, which the Tampa Bay Times reports is already “one of Pinellas County’s most polluted bodies of water.” The St. John’s River in Jacksonville has seen at least 130,000 gallons of sewage released into its tributaries. And in Volusia County, which holds Daytona Beach, a two-million-gallon spill of treated sewage has seen “no cleanup efforts” so far, according to a notice. [more]

Florida’s Poop Nightmare Has Come True

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