On Friday, June 29th, many Portland area families were getting ready for early Independence Day vacations. For construction crews working at Sunset Ridge mobile home community that meant wrapping up work on a new wastewater treatment lagoon. However, that work didn’t go quite as expected resulting in the spillage of approximately 2.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the Grand River.
The Portland Beacon received documents detailing the incident from Infrastructure Alternatives Inc., the company contracted to operate the wastewater treatment plant at Sunset Ridge. In situations like this, state law requires sewer system operators to notify the county health department, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, affected municipal governments and local newspapers. According to these documents, a combination of oversight and miscommunication between the operating company and contractors occurred sometime after the new lagoon was brought online on Friday, June 29th. Sometime between then and Monday, July 2nd, a valve was opened allowing sewage to drain from the lagoon into the Grand River. Once made aware of the situation, Infrastructure Alternatives technicians closed the valve that morning stopping the leak.
In cases like this, the concern for public health requires that water samples from the affected body of water be tested for the presence of bacteria like E.coli. According to Michigan State University’s Center for Water Sciences, “...E. coli is a bacterium found in warm-blooded human and animal feces. Finding E. coli in water means that there is fecal contamination and therefore pathogens carried in feces may also be present.” The water samples collected by Infrastructure Alternatives employees were tested for E.coli by Prein & Newhof Laboratory in Grand Rapids. Results for the samples collected from the Grand River ranged from 36-140 colony forming units for every 100 milliliters of water.
According to officials at the Ionia County Health Department, the standard is no more than 300 colony forming units for every 100 milliliters of water. Below these levels the water is deemed safe for activities that involve “full body immersion” like swimming. At this time the health department says there is no real cause for concern for local residents as all water tests came back within acceptable limits.
However, if you have been in the Grand River in the past week or so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that symptoms of E.coli infection can start up to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting, and in some cases a low grade fever. If you develop these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.
Calls to management at Sunset Ridge for comment went unanswered as of this writing.
PHOTO: Google Maps and Jordan D. Smith