WHAT GOES IN THE RIVER . . . GOES SOMEWHERE!

A note to readers: As I wrote this blog, my mind continually drifted to the early attempts to grapple with the pollution of the Naugatuck River. Some of this history is in the just released print edition (2014) of my memoir, Moon Shadow Of War.

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For many years, industrialists told us they would build their smoke stacks high. That way the pollution would dissipate in the air. The higher the smoke stacks, the less worry about air pollution.  Thus began what seemed like a contest. Who could build the highest stack? 

 

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While the owners of these industries would make us believe in a magic act, physicists knew better. One of the basic principles of physics declares that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter may be spewed up but it also must come down. And come down it did.

The national Resources Defense Council studied air pollution. What it found wasn’t pretty. “From soot to toxic heavy metals, dirty coal and fossil fuel smoke stacks emit vast quantities of dangerous pollutants that are well known to cause disease and death. The total cost of these health impacts (especially respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema) is more than $100 billion per year.”  Remember, this is after 40 years of the clean air act! And this does not even consider the big kahuna, climate change.

I raise this point for a specific, relevant reason. On December 25th, 2013, a pollution episode occurred along the Naugatuck River in Seymour. A burst sewage pipe dumped the untreated material into the river at a rate of 100-200 gallons per minute. Estimates are 30,000 to 35,000 gallons of raw sewage were released into the water.

Days later a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman stated that DEEP was satisfied with the actions of the private company that runs Seymour’s waste treatment plant. He followed this with, “the river’s fast flow would quickly dissipate the sewage.”

Sound familiar? We are supposed to believe that the toxins, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, not to mention the bacteria, viruses and other microbes, “dissipate.” That is they disappear. Another mythical magic act, this time promulgated by DEEP. Ugh! A statement by the Connecticut Rivers Alliance that “ . . .fish usually can swim away.” was hardly helpful.

Phosphates alone do great damage in such spills. Found in detergents and washing powders, they combine with other nutrients in untreated human waste. This can lead to an overabundance of bacteria that proceed to suck the dissolved oxygen out of the water. That, in turn, hurts aquatic organisms that require certain defined amounts of the oxygen.

Of course this pollution was passed down the Naugatuck River to Ansonia, Derby and into the Housatonic River. From there, some of the untreated mess was deposited into Long Island Sound. I doubt that the statement by DEEP about the so-called dissipation of sewage will warm the hearts of fisher people and others fighting the pollution of Long Island Sound.

Now the first selectman of Seymour has raised the specter of sabotage. While he quickly followed this with its too early to say, this scary story is out there. Others, including one official in Naugatuck, are repeating the story.

 While school is still out on final causes here, it sure smacks of a diversion from the real issues. Was the spill due to the lack of maintenance? Are there enough employees in this privatized sewage treatment plant to do maintenance and to what amounts to preventive action? Data from the 1990s shows the number of workers in wastewater treatment in Seymour has gone down from 9 – 10 to 6 workers. Is that enough to do preventive maintenance on the many pipes and other structures involved?

(One can just imagine the maintenance problems if the Keystone XL pipeline, carrying the tar sands dirty oil from Canada, were allowed to travel the great distances proposed in the USA. Those interested to join the fight against this, go to http://www.350.org)

Are there reasons those of us upstream in Naugatuck, or elsewhere, along the river should be concerned? Plenty. Veolia, the private company that runs Seymour’s wastewater treatment plant, also operates Naugatuck’s.

Veolia Water is a huge international company headquartered in Paris, France. Its national base here is in Chicago. It has 100,000s employees working as far away as Iraq.

Compared to Seymour, we have a much bigger operation in Naugatuck as the town takes in sludge from other towns. We have 30 workers. The town inputs between 1.0 and 1.2 million tax dollars for the operation of the plant. How much profit is made and taken out of the town? No one seems to know. Are our pipes and equipment being properly maintained?

With all this as a backdrop, our towns are being hit with cutbacks from the federal and state levels. The military budget takes over 53% of our federal tax dollars. The sequester is just the latest round of cutbacks. Naugatuck hired Blum Shapiro, which has ties to Baker Tilly International, to find a way out of the mess. Their solution to all this is . . . more privatization.

Concerning the privatization tact of the present Mezzo Administration in Naugatuck, it would directly affect visiting nurses, sanitation and family services. VNA patients, for example, are worried they would lose the close relationship they have with their present nurses and see their time allotment with them diminish. Products are not involved here. Nor are they commodities for the market. These are people services. People walk, talk and have dreams.  

Creative solutions are beginning to come forward from the grassroots. The VNA of Naugatuck is willing to also work outside of Naugatuck and bring those dollars back here. Let’s take over the operation of our own wastewater treatment plant. Those dollars, especially the fees collected from other towns for treating their sludge, can be used to finance the running of the plant. Tax dollars saved can then be used to help fund our public works e.g. sanitation and also family services.

Now we need your solutions. Get your creative juices flowing and respond to this blog.