Sewage ‘poured into Brunswick River for weeks’

Screen shot from a video of the overflow incident at the Brunswick Valley Sewage Treatment Plant on January 25, 2012

Paul Bibby

Partially treated sewage containing dangerous bacteria flowed into the Brunswick River for weeks while Byron Council argued over the cost of repairing the Brunswick Valley Sewage Treatment Plant (BVSTP), a former Council employee says.

And while Council staff deny the claims, saying instead the plant was repaired ‘promptly’ and that bacteria remained at safe levels throughout the incident, it’s emerged the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) were not aware.

The former employee told The Echo that Council allowed the bacteria-laden effluent to flow into the river ‘for at least a month’ after a crucial disinfection unit at the plant broke down during an overflow event in January 2012.

‘It took weeks while they quibbled over who was going to pay to fix the UV disinfection unit after it shorted out,’ said the former employee, who asked to remain anonymous. ‘So you had all that effluent going out. It was easily a month… probably longer.’

The Echo obtained a video showing a significant overflow event taking place at the BVSTP on January 25, 2012.

The video, which is time and date stamped, shows effluent flowing out of the plant’s UV inlet pit and onto the surrounding grass. At one point it can be seen flowing down an access road toward the river.

According to the former Council employee, water inundated the electronics of the UV treatment plant during this incident causing it to short out. This meant that the effluent flowing through the plant was no longer subjected to UV treatment – a process by which sewage is blasted with UV light to kill a certain type of bacteria known as faecal coliforms.

There is a demonstrated relationship between the presence of faecal coliform bacteria and illness-causing bacteria including E-coli, hepatitis, and salmonella.

In a statement to The Echo, Council staff confirmed that an overflow incident had occurred at the plant on the day in question ‘as a result of high rainfall and a design defect’.

It said that the incident had been managed, and that the overflow was contained onsite.

It also said that, while the UV unit was damaged during the incident, it had been ‘repaired promptly by both the head contractor and Council staff’.

‘The treatment plant complied with its faecal coliform licence conditions before, during and after the event,’ the statement said.

‘The incident and system bypass were reported as required by Council’s Environment Protection Licence.

‘There was certainly no negligence on the part of Council staff who responded promptly, and professionally, to the incident.’

Council staff further stated that the incident was reported, ‘as required by Council’s Environment Protection Licence’.

However, it appears this did not involve reporting the incident to the NSW Environmental Protection Authority.

When asked, the Authority said it had no ‘record corresponding to that date’.

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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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