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Wastewater spill prompts warning
Thursday, January 17, 2013
A wastewater spill at Martinsville’s sewage treatment plant is causing state health officials to recommend that people stay out of the Smith River.
The spill probably will not harm drinking water, local and state officials said.
A public advisory concerning the spill was issued Wednesday as a precaution in case anyone is thinking about swimming or wading in parts of the river below the treatment plant, said Bobby Parker, the Virginia Department of Health’s southwest region public information officer.
The treatment plant is on Wind Dancer Lane, near the Martinsville Industrial Park south of the city.
Officials said it is unlikely that anyone would be planning to get in the river soon, considering the cold, rainy weather the area has had recently.
High levels of rainfall this week raised the river’s water level and increased runoff into storm drains and the treatment plant. The water surge overwhelmed the treatment plant’s capacity, causing wastewater that had been chlorinated but otherwise not treated to get into the river, a release from the health department stated.
The treatment plant usually processes about 4 million gallons of water a day but water flow from this week’s rains exceeded the plant’s capacity of 16 million gallons per day, said city Water Resource Director Andy Lash.
He and Parker estimated there was an excess of 1 million to 1.5 million gallons of water.
The excess water was diverted through a bypass system, but some of the water went through sewer lines before it reached the plant, Lash said.
Officials said they think the spill occurred between late Sunday and early Monday.
Martinsville gets its drinking water from the Beaver Creek Reservoir near Patrick Henry Community College. Drinking water distributed by the Henry County Public Service Authority mainly comes from Philpott Lake, although some is purchased from the city, officials said.
No local drinking water intake points are on the river below the treatment plant. Lash and Parker indicated that upon flowing into normal water in the river, any contaminated water should get diluted enough not to cause any problems when it reaches drinking water intake points on the Dan River at Eden, N.C., and Danville. The Smith flows into the Dan at Eden.
Dr. Gordon Green, director of the Henry-Martinsville Health Department, said health officials “simply ask folks to avoid recreational contact with the water (in the lower Smith) ... until the water subsides and potential contaminants are reduced to safe levels.”
Signs have been posted along affected parts of the river to warn people not to swim or wade in it.