Floridians reeling from widespread power outages and a deadly surge of stormwater following Hurricanes Ian and Nicole are facing another problem: raw sewage swirling into the floodwaters. Wastewater is a danger not only to the environment but also to public health.
Untold gallons of raw and poorly treated sewage have flowed into streets and rivers as floodwaters inundate infrastructure, power failures knock pumps offline, and manholes overflow. Florida is no stranger to major sewer spills following hurricanes. Hurricane Irma in 2017 led to the discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater, according to a report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The release after Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew in 2016 was even bigger: 250 million gallons.
Volunteers have turned out in droves after the hurricanes to assist in the rescue efforts. The remnants after the storm have passed still pose threats to the environment. Wastewater seeps into stormwater when treatment plants are overworked, and sometimes partially treated or even untreated wastewater gets discharged into rivers and seas.
One man's exposure to wastewater mixed up with stormwater led to his death. This good-hearted man came from Michigan, and bacteria-infested water entered a small leg wound leading to a bacterial infection and his death a few days later. He was an unsung hero in the recovery efforts. His death should not be in vain.
Ariel Stern, Ayyeka's CEO, commented, "Many underestimate the health risks and dangers when dealing with raw sewage. On my visits to cities and CSO sites, I often see people swimming and playing in the water. Bad idea."
What can be learned from this tragic situation? There are no simple solutions, but getting a handle on the problem is a good place to start. Without measurement of the problem, it can't be improved. Better data on wastewater systems is a key step to improving wastewater treatment systems that protect the public.
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