Monday, June 17, 2024

12,000 gallons of wastewater spilled in Brunswick County. Because it didn’t reach a waterway, public notification wasn’t required

A spill released an estimated 12,000 gallons of untreated wastewater onto land off Mt. Misery Road mid-January. (Port City Daily photo/Contributed)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — An inland wastewater spill occurred earlier this month off Mt. Misery Road, but per state law, the public isn’t required to be notified of inland overflow events.

A public notification of sewer spills is only triggered when more than 1,000 gallons of untreated wastewater reaches public surface waters. When a wastewater spill occurs inland and doesn’t reach the water — regardless of how much is released — utility operators are not required to disclose the spill to the public. If less than 1,000 gallons of wastewater spills and reaches public surface waters, public notification isn’t required, according to G.S. § 143-215.1C.(c).

Mt. Misery spill

Video of the wastewater spill. (Contributed)

On Jan. 16, Brunswick County Utilities responded to the spill off Mt. Misery Road.

An estimated 12,000 gallons of wastewater pooled in a grassy area next to a business located on South Old Mount Misery Road in Navassa. The spill lasted at least four and a half hours and did not reach any public surface water, according to Brunswick County.

Private property owners weren’t notified because the repair occurred after hours, according to the county.

It was caused by a cable contractor that ran a boring machine along the top of the county’s 8-inch wastewater force main, according to the county. This damage was done at some point prior to the construction of the I-140 interchange. Since the interchange’s completion, cable utilities were relocated and abandoned in the area.

“We have no way to determine when this damage occurred,” Meagan Kascsak, the county’s spokesperson, provided in a statement.

A small hole developed on the top of the damaged force main over time, leading to the Jan. 16 spill. By the time the county intervened, the hole had grown to an approximately 1-inch by 2-inch split. The county was notified around 3 p.m. of the standing wastewater and arrived on the scene with necessary equipment between 4 and 5 p.m., according to the county. It lasted at least four and a half hours before being repaired.

To mitigate the amount released, county staff used a vacuum truck to remove the pool of wastewater on site. Brunswick County staff notified the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at 7:30 p.m., around the same time the force main was repaired.

State law requires utilities to report spills that exceed 1,000 gallons and reach the ground to the DEQ “as soon as practicable” or within 24 hours; this requirement is triggered when any amount of wastewater reaches public surface waters.

According to the DEQ, Brunswick County could have waited until the following day to report the spill to the department, but likely reported it after containing it “due to the high profile location and potential interest by others.”

The next morning, Brunswick Public Utilities staff added lime to the affected soil to stabilize it — normal protocol following overflow events.

In 2014, the legislature strengthened public reporting requirements through Senate Bill 729. Public notification of wastewater spills greater than 1,000 gallons that reached public surface water was tightened from 48 hours to 24 hours. Formal notification of large wastewater spills to downstream parties was also strengthened, from 1,000,000 gallons before to 15,000 gallons.

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