Sewage spilling into Naugatuck River

Sewage spills in the Naugatuck River in Seymour on Wednesday. CONTRIBUTED BY STEVE CHERHONIAK

Sewage spills in the Naugatuck River in Seymour on Wednesday. CONTRIBUTED BY STEVE CHERHONIAK

SEYMOUR — Thousands of gallons of raw sewage have spilled into the Naugatuck River after a siphon carrying the wastewater ruptured on the river’s edge in Seymour.

Seymour resident Steve Cherhoniak said he noticed the breach Wednesday morning while driving along Derby Avenue. He saw a gaping hole in a manhole connected to the siphon that carries sewage underneath the 40-mile-long river that runs from Torrington to Derby.

“Sewage was just gushing into the river,” he said.

Cherhoniak said he had no idea how long the wastewater has been seeping, but that as of Thursday it had not been fixed. Town Department of Public Works crews were on the scene all day making repairs.

Meanwhile, 100 to 200 gallons of wastewater per minute was flowing into the river, Cyndy Chanaca, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Thursday.

Town crews cleaned debris inside the pipe and built a sandbag dam to contain the spill, Chanaca said. The cause remains under investigation; DEEP will monitor the work and follow up with the town, she said.

Cherhoniak, who retired as a chief operator for the Seymour Water Pollution Control Authority after 35 years, said he was annoyed with how long it took the town to respond to his complaints.

He said he called the Seymour Police Department about the issue at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and didn’t see a public works truck at the site until 2:30 p.m. Sewage was still gushing at 7:30 p.m. when he went to check again, he said.

“I know the protocol is to get someone there immediately, no matter what day it is,” he said. “There is always someone on call and they can be there within a half-hour. …This is serious, and it didn’t seem like anyone was taking it that way.”

He said public works crews should have placed sandbags around the river earlier. He also said that, based on his years of experience, he believes the pipe ruptured due to a backup, meaning it probably had not been cleaned properly or frequently enough.

The Seymour wastewater treatment plant used to be run by the town, but is now run by Veolia Water North America. A message left with the company’s answering service after business hours Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.

The sewage is toxic and could have harmful effects for the river, said Margaret Miner, executive director for Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and enhancing Connecticut’s rivers, streams and watersheds.

She said it could be filled with pathogens and viruses, plus toxins, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. She said it is toxic to aquatic life, though fish can usually swim away. And, she said, nutrients can cause algae to grow at rapid rates, creating dead zones along the river.

“You worry about pathogens and nutrients that can be harmful to health,” Miner said.

“You wouldn’t want to go near there. …It’s generally a disgusting situation that is not good for human life, not good for the river, and I hope they get it cleaned soon because the Naugatuck River has made a remarkable turnaround and this will hurt it.”

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