Sewer overflows cause concerns during pandemic, experts weigh in

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DECATUR, Ala. – In March and April it’s estimated that nearly 4 million gallons of wastewater overflowed from manholes in Decatur.

This has been an ongoing issue in Decatur, but is this old problem worsened by the threat of COVID-19?

Blockages due to disposable wipes and heavy rainfall are what caused the latest rounds of wastewater overflows recently in Decatur, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Posts on ADEM’s e-file indicate most of the 3.9 million gallons discharged into Dry Branch Creek.

Many manholes overflowed in residential neighborhoods. One on 8th Street SW leaked more than half a million gallons in March and April alone.

Decatur has invested $60 million over the past decade to rehabilitate the city’s old pipe infrastructure.

In February WHNT News 19 reported that Decatur Utilities was conducting an engineering study, the results of which would help DU identify areas that should be addressed in order to have the most impact as they work to stop sanitary sewer overflows. DU officials said the study would be complete in 2 to 3 months.

But Wednesday, a representative from the utility said due to COVID-19 the study is not expected to be completed until sometime mid-summer.

But that’s not the only possible issue cause by COVID-19. Representatives from Tennessee Riverkeeper say manhole overflows have become more concerning.

“Its not anything we want to discharge onto our streets and into our waterways, especially during COVID-19,” said Tennessee Riverkeeper’s David Whiteside in a Youtube video expressing his concerns.

Officials from DU said last month there is no elevated risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency addressed the question: Can I get COVID-19 from wastewater or sewage?

The answer: “The World Health Organization has indicated that ‘there is no evidence to date that COVID-19 virus has been transmitted via sewage systems, with or without wastewater treatment.”

But the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention pointed out transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through sewage may be possible. The CDC website says in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, there was documented transmission with sewage aerosols. It goes on to say that standard chlorination practices used by municipal wastewater systems should be enough to inactivate coronavirus.

So far this year, more than 23 million gallons of wastewater have overflowed from manholes in Decatur.

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