DEEP determines sewage spill killed fish

More than 50 white suckers were discovered dead in the Naugatuck River near the Polish American Club in Naugatuck last Wednesday. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection investigated and found 5 million gallons of sewage leaked into the river. -LARAINE WESCHLER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — An electrical problem at Waterbury’s sewage treatment plant spelled problems for fish downstream.

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain said the treatment plant experienced an electrical malfunction the night of Oct. 9 that caused it to dump partially-treated and untreated sewage into the Naugatuck River. About 5 million gallons flowed into the river.

A mistake by a contractor working on a $9 million upgrade to the plant caused electrical breakers to blow, according to Denis Cuevas, general manager of the Waterbury Pollution Control department

The impact of the problem was discovered on Oct. 11 when more than 50 fish turned up dead in the Naugatuck River near the Polish American Club in Naugatuck.

Schain said DEEP originally thought the spill only killed white suckers, a bottom feeding fish. However, there were also a number of sunfish and trout amongst the dead fish, he said.

“At first glance it seemed like [white suckers] were the predominate victims. But it was more widespread than we originally thought,” Schain said.

When fish die off in this quantity, Schain said, the DEEP usually takes samples of the water to determine the cause and whether it’s an ongoing issue. However, once the DEEP found out about the problem at the treatment plant, the answer quickly became clear, he said.

“It didn’t take a lot of science detective work in this case,” Schain said.

Schain said the DEEP would not pursue any punitive action in this case because the dumping was due to an accident.

“It wasn’t anything they did intentionally or any violation of protocol,” Schain said.

Naugatuck Valley Health District Assistant Director David Rogers said he was made aware of the issue on Monday and did not have much information on the current state of the river.

Rogers pointed out that more than a week had passed since the sewage was dumped into the river, which would typically mean the sewage has moved downstream. Since the river’s flow has been low, however, he recommended people use caution for the time-being if fishing or wading in the river.

“It wouldn’t hurt to give it more time. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Rogers said.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.