Georgia EPD investigates illegal sewage dumping in Bryan County

WTOC Investigates:

BRYAN COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - A Georgia Environmental Protection Division investigation report revealed Bryan County contractors illegally dumped sewage debris on the ground just about 100 feet away from a drinking water well for the Waterways community.

This Georgia EPD report said the state launched its investigation back in February after a nearby resident complained of the sewage items found in dirt pits.

From talking to other nearby neighbors, it seems everyone is concerned. One neighbor, who wished to be anonymous, says the county dumping sewage debris into a pit is unbelievable.

“As a resident, them dumping the contents of what they pumped out of their sewage pumped out and put on top of the ground, it’s disgusting,” he said.

At sewage water treatment plants around Georgia, it is common practice to regularly clean out debris that gets flushed down the toilet that shouldn’t. If workers didn’t, sewage would back up. However, this recent EPD report said a Bryan County contractor discarded this clogged debris the wrong way. David Lyle, Georgia EPD Program Director for the Coastal District, said in his 25 years, he hasn’t seen many cases like this one.

“Something exactly like this is pretty rare where they are intentionally placing sewage or things that came into contact with sewage in a pit away from the controlled area of the treatment plant,” Lyle said.

EPD investigators said this happened on a spray field facility where they treat the sewage before spraying back on county land.

The state investigators said the contractor was removing the clogged debris, like feminine hygiene products and plastic bags, and dumping it into a dirt pit. The workers wait for the contents to dry off, pick it back up and take it to a dumpster. Neighbors worried about water contamination with a drinking well within plain sight of the illegal pit.

“Seepage into the ground and our water system, not to mention where it was dumped," one neighbor said. "It’s probably less than 100 feet from the well that feeds all of Waterways.”

Bryan County says it didn’t know workers were doing anything wrong. The county sent this full statement to WTOC.

"In early February, the EPD received a complaint from a Bryan County resident who spotted sewage system debris that had been removed from a lift station upstream from the county sewage plant’s filtration system. It was being temporarily stored during a dry-out phase designed to evaporate all water from the matter so it can be properly disposed of in a certified landfill.
Bryan County

The county said they were told by EPD this practice was allowed in 2016, but they were unable to provide documentation proving that. According to a 2016 EPD report, Bryan County was instead cited for a similar issue at the same location.

“I think there must have been a misunderstanding," Lyle said. "Our records indicate that it was a temporary situation and it was re-mediated and at that time cleaned up and we thought it was a one time thing and it was over.”

EPD’s investigation over the last few weeks called for extensive water testing at the Bryan County site. All water testing came back clean. In addition, the county removed the debris and a few inches of contaminated soil and hauled it away. WTOC reached out to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, which monitors water quality in the region. They sent this full statement to WTOC.

“The discovery of this illegal dumpsite and the subsequent enforcement actions taken by Georgia EPD are a direct result of concerned citizens reporting an issue, and following through to insure that the proper authorities address it. This is an example as why the public is our greatest resource in enforcing environmental laws and regulation. We thank these citizens for their contribution to the protection of water resources in our basin and encourage others to follow their example.”
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper

Neighbors hope the pit stays cleaned out.

“We hope it doesn’t happen again. Now that there are riverkeepers and so forth and they are alerted and people are on to it, maybe they won’t do it again and that’s what we’re hoping,” the neighbor said.

The complaint officially closed on Monday, March 25, 2019. EPD says this violation usually brings consequences like big-pocket fines, but this offense was on a much smaller scale. Instead, EPD just asked the county to pay for the extensive water testing.

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