Ross Valley Sanitary District officials reported Wednesday afternoon that 842,000 gallons of wastewater spilled in Kentfield on Friday evening and they placed blame on either a contractor for allowing construction debris to block the sewage system or on "environmental terrorism."
The spill was discovered at about 7 p.m. Friday. Manholes at several locations in Kentfield overflowed. The district said that 105,000 gallons of the 842,000-gallon spill were recovered. The balance flowed into stormwater drains, which empty into Corte Madera Creek and San Francisco Bay.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the district said it immediately notified the Marin County Office of Emergency Services, the county s Department of Environmental Health and the state Regional Water Quality Control Board. But David Smail, supervising environmental health specialist with the Marin County Department of Environmental Health, said his department wasn t notified until Tuesday, though the report was dated Friday. Smail said the report stated the amount of wastewater spilled was unknown.
Ellen Gumbiner, who lives on Cedar Avenue in Kentfield, said she noticed "bubbling" at a manhole near the intersection of Laurel and Locust avenues on Wednesday and called the sanitary district. Feces, toilet paper and wastewater were visible in the street, she said. Gumbiner said a similar problem occurred about 14 years ago, and residents also weren t notified.
"This has been kept quiet, and that s not OK," she added. "There s health hazards here that people need to know about. There s a lot of bacteria on the street and people are stepping out into it and walking into their homes and don t know."
In its press release Wednesday, the district stated that during the cleanup a large amount of construction debris "was removed from the district s pump station and sourced as the cause of the sanitary sewer overflow." According to the release, the debris came from a site where JMB Construction had recently finished a capital improvement project for the district. A spokesman for JMB could not immediately be reached for comment.
"Large pieces of road asphalt and rubber from the Kent School running track, along with two hardhats, chunks clay dirt (sic), and a big piece of wire nest somehow ended up in our brand new sewer pipes," Brett Richards, the sanitary district s general manager, stated in the release. "Some of the pieces of debris measured 30 inches wide by 6 inches thick, so it is hard to imagine that this was an accident."
The statement said the debris "suggests gross contractor negligence or that an act of environmental terrorism has been committed."
Richards could not be reached to answer follow-up questions.
The release also states, however, that "In a related event, for the last three weeks the district has been in the process of making emergency repairs to address ongoing Techite pipe failures and spills due to manufacturer defect."
The release goes on to say that the emergency repairs are to its "force main pipe that is made of Techite, a pipe material that has been an industry failure resulting in numerous lawsuits. The Techite pipe was partially replaced this year with the balance scheduled for next summer. When the pipe that was scheduled for repair next year began failing, the district began emergency repairs which are ongoing at this time."
Techite pipe, a composite material made of fiberglass, polyester resin and sand, was made by Amoco Reinforced Plastics Co., a subsidiary of the former Amoco Corp., from 1973 to 1980. Other water districts and irrigation districts have set aside money to remove the pipe, which critics say fails catastrophically when it fails.
In its release, district officials stated that "there is no immediate public danger, however, the ongoing emergency repairs and the potential for additional spills are serious and may require the closing of roads."
It was unknown what steps county health officials may take, or have taken. When Smail spoke to the Independent Journal on Wednesday afternoon, he hadn t yet learned of the size of the spill.
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at email@example.com; IJ reporter Jessica Bernstein-Wax contributed to this report.