By ASHLEY HELMS
Despite a Village of Mamaroneck resident’s concerns about the possibility of contracting infections by ingesting contaminated water from the Long Island Sound and the rivers in Mamaroneck, further water testing may not be necessary, according to village officials and representatives of Save the Sound.
Gina Von Eiff spoke at the Sept. 23 village Board of Trustees meeting to call attention to the levels of bacterial contaminants that eventually run into Long Island Sound stemming from two sewer line breaks at the Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club and the Jefferson Avenue Bridge. The leaks, she said, put residents, and especially children, at risk for contracting hepatitis, typhoid or cholera because these infections can be carried in untreated water that is polluted by human waste.
“Raw sewage was leaking by the millions of gallons and people are swimming in it and not knowing it,” Von Eiff said. “What’s present in raw sewage?”
A 21-inch underground sewage pipe was accidentally broken at the site of the Jefferson Avenue Bridge construction project in March, which caused 3 million gallons of raw sewage to leak into Mamaroneck River, and eventually, into the Long Island Sound, according to a letter to the village from the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club, located at 555 South Barry Ave., was the site of another sewer line break. Save the Sound, a non-profit environmental group, conducted bacteria testing in the Mamaroneck Harbor in July, which led to the discovery of the broken pipe at the club. The break leaked an unknown amount of raw sewage into the harbor, but was fixed on Aug. 14.
Seminars, open houses and accessible information should be available to residents about what they could be exposed to if they come in contact with water in the Mamaroneck River or Long Island Sound, Von Eiff said.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m a parent and resident and someone who is very concerned about what our residents are being exposed to,” she said. “The people who were elected to protect this village should be protecting the village.”
Tom Andersen, Communications Coordinator for Save the Sound, said testing for e coli and enterococci—bacteria commonly found in the human
digestive track—is enough because, if those contaminants are found, it can be assumed that hepatitis and other infections could be present as well. These infections can be carried in human waste before it is passed through a water treatment facility.
“If you have [E. coli and enterococci], you can assume you have others,” Andersen said. “You don’t need to test for the others because you assume they’re there.”
Although typhoid, hepatitis and cholera could be present, Andersen said it’s unlikely someone will contract it by coming into contact with contaminated village waterways and referred to such an event as a “worst case scenario.”
The testing protocol that Save the Sound follows has been set by state health departments and Andersen said he’s confident in its effectiveness.
That being said, he wouldn’t suggest people swim in the Mamaroneck River.
“You’re more likely to suffer gastrointestinal issues from swallowing a mouthful of water,” Andersen said, in relation to the bacterial levels in the water.
In her appearance before the Board of Trustees, Von Eiff voiced concern about Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, as an additional health risk stemming from blood entering the waterways from residents’ homes via the sewage leaks. Her theory was met by strong opposition from Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat.
Bermudez Hallstrom said Von Eiff was singling out HIV-positive residents and spreading false information about transmission of the disease.
“It’s wrong and unfair to target residents who are HIV-positive as somehow being a factor of pollution in the rivers and beaches,” he said. “I think people who are HIV-positive have a lot more to worry about.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, HIV does not survive long outside of the human body, can’t reproduce and isn’t spread through air or water.
Bermudez Hallstrom said that along with spreading false information, Von Eiff is also contributing to undue panic about health risks. He said that the village is being proactive with getting the word out to residents.
“We’re trying to get the message out about the state of the water,” Bermudez Hallstrom said. “Finding out the problem has to be the first step.”