Public Health Warning Failure!

This is not Alewife Brook – it’s the Alewife Greenway under sewage flood water!

The public has a legal right to know when hazardous, untreated sewage is discharged into Alewife Brook because it is a serious health risk, especially during flood events. But residents are not informed. On Tuesday, August 8th, 2023, folks had no idea they were walking through water on the Alewife Greenway path that was contaminated with hazardous human and industrial waste. 

The Sewage Pollution Notification System is NOT working.

Neighbors using the Alewife Greenway pushed baby carriages through untreated sewage water.

What Happened?

It rained fast and furiously on Tuesday, August 8th. We witnessed an intense burst of heavy downpours. Arlington Conservation Commissioner David White measured 2 1/2” of rain in 2 hours at his house. Many local streets were flooded.  This type of storm is becoming the new normal due to Climate Change.

Cambridge, Somerville, and Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s inadequate combined sewer systems were quickly overwhelmed by stormwater and dumped millions of gallons of untreated human sewage into the Alewife Brook. The brook overflowed its banks and flooded the Alewife Greenway, a popular transportation corridor that runs through multiple Environmental Justice Community neighborhoods.

Neighbors, unaware of the sewage discharge, jogged, pushed baby carriages, and rode bikes through the contaminated water.

The law is being abused.

Although state and federal law requires that the public be notified when sewage is dumped into the brook, the existing warning system failed. Residents were not notified in a way that prevented their exposure to untreated sewage.

Our neighbors had no idea that millions of gallons of untreated sewage had been dumped 500 feet upstream of the water they were wading through.

The Massachusetts Sewage Notification law requires local Boards of Health to post Public Health advisories after being notified of a sewage discharge. A physical sign must be posted to warn the community. By 1:00 PM Tuesday, public email discharge notifications from MWRA and local sewer operators had been issued. Yet there was no warning posted.

Public Health Advisory.

Where’s the required Public Health Advisory? The answer is: nowhere. State regulators are not enforcing the law.

There are overlapping State and Federal Public Notification requirements. In addition to the State law, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the Alewife sewers also requires that the public be notified when sewers overflow.

The public must be provided with same-day, on-site notice of sewage discharges. This is standard practice elsewhere and should be afforded to our community.

Our neighbors deserve to know!

Out of frustration Save the Alewife Brook’s David Stoff posted this sign to warn neighbors about the sewage.

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