LIMESTONE, Maine — Officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection were in Limestone on Thursday after a sewer line break led to the discharge of more than a million gallons of untreated wastewater into Greenlaw Stream and surrounding wetlands.
The public is being encouraged to avoid contact with water in and around the stream.
Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the Maine DEP and its director of education and outreach, said Thursday that vandals likely caused the break in the 15-inch sewer line, which connects the eastern half of the Loring Commerce Centre to the Greater Limestone Utilities District.
“We believe that vandals likely tossed several basketball-sized rocks and a rubber traffic cone down a manhole, and they made their way through the pipe and clogged it and the line broke,” she said. “A basketball-sized rock and a traffic cone just don’t get into a manhole, so they are pretty sure it was vandals who did not realize the impact it would have. The discharge has likely occurred over the past several weeks.”
The area of the break is remote, according to Depoy-Warren, so it took awhile for it to be discovered. Work crews also had only limited access to the site until after the springmelt.
The area of discharge is three or four miles upstream of where the waterway feeds into the Madawaska River, according to Depoy-Warren, but officials have issued no advisories for the river. They don’t believe the break has affected that waterway, but they will continue to monitor it in the coming weeks and months.
The line repair was completed Wednesday and wastewater is now flowing normally to the treatment plant.
Water samples taken by department scientists in the stream, which is popular for fishing and fiddlehead picking this time of year, showed levels of E. coli nearly as high as those typically found in raw wastewater.
“As a precautionary measure, the department is recommending the public avoid contact with the water in and around that stream due to the potential to come into contact with the bacteria,” said Brian Kavanah, director of Maine DEP’s Division of Water Quality Management.
Cleanup and recovery of the waste in the wetlands began Thursday and is being carried out by DEP staff in partnership with employees from the Greater Limestone Utilities District and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. They’ll also continue to monitor water quality and alert the public when it returns to normal, something expected this month.
Notices about the contamination are being posted at access points along the stream, and Depoy-Warren said that anyone who gets near the area can tell something is wrong.
“I have been told the odor is pretty powerful,” she said Thursday. “The discharge includes solid and liquid product, so you can tell there is an issue there.”