The Suffolk County Department of Health has issued an advisory to residents to take precautions before recreating on the tidal portion of the Peconic River (east of Grangebel Park) this week, due to the possible residual effects of inadequately treated wastewater discharged from the Riverhead sewage treatment plant.
The county is urging the public to avoid contact with waters in the tidal portion of the Peconic River, and to rinse exposed parts of their bodies off completely If contact does occur, due to the presence of highly elevated fecal coliform levels in the water. A portion of the sewage treatment plant has been offline while the plant is in the midst of a major upgrade.
The health department is urging members of the public to seek medical attention if after exposure they experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; skin, eye or throat irritation, or allergic reactions or difficulty breathing.
The health department learned of the discharge from sample results that were received last Friday, Dec. 11.
According to the health department, “corrective actions were taken immediately, and the situation is improving. Suffolk County Health officials are working closely with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has jurisdiction over the permitting and enforcement at the facility, and with the management at the Riverhead plant.”
The state DEC learned of the matter on Friday, Dec. 11, said DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo, after the health department reported to the DEC that the wastewater discharged from the plant was “cloudy.”
Ms. Montalvo said samples taken by the county health department were high in coliform, but samples obtained by the sewer district “did not show high levels of coliform but RSD did observe a visual problem with the quality of the effluent.”
The Riverhead Sewer District is currently installing advanced nitrogen removal upgrades at their plant, a $23.5 million project.
According to the DEC, “during construction, adjustments to the treatment process and plant operation are needed to ensure permit compliance. RSD is staffing the plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week and conducting additional wastewater sampling to ensure these adjustments are successful. DEC along with SCDHS are closely monitoring the plant as it continues to upgrade its waste processing systems.”
Surface water samples taken by DEC’s Shellfishing Division on December 14 showed the water quality is good.
Ms. Montalvo said the DEC is currently pursuing an enforcement action for past permit violations at the Riverhead sewage treatment plant.
“As this is an ongoing enforcement action, DEC cannot comment further on this topic.,” she said. “These limit of technology upgrades are expected to be completed in the coming months, and are expected to remove additional nitrogen and greatly improve the quality of the wastewater discharge to the Peconic.”