ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- Millions of gallons of raw sewage is spilling into the Mississippi River after not one, but two pumps fail at the Metropolitan Sewer District`s Bissell Point Treatment Plant in North St. Louis.
"Right now we have about 100 million gallons of sewage going into the Mississippi and we are working around the clock to get that rectified," said MSD spokesman Lance LeComb.
When the Mississippi gets above 32.5 feet, like it is right now, MSD has to switch from sending treated water into the river through a pipe low on the riverbank, to pumping treated water into the river through a higher pipe.
But with two of its three pumps failing at the same time, there is not enough pumping power left to treat everything coming into the plant, even with temporary pumps brought in to help, so some of the sewer water is being dumped into the river untreated.
"It is certainly unprecedented, a little Murphy`s law going on," LeComb said. "We just had those pumps rebuilt in the past two years. The third pump that is working is 22 years old without any rebuild."
But is so much raw sewage discharged into the river a safety problem?
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment says it could be for people living downstream.
"During a flood it creates a dangerous situation for downstream communities because the flood waters now in homes are full of bacteria and extra contamination, so that is a hazard," said Kathleen Logan Smith, director of environmental policy executive at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
But MSD insists, 100 million gallons of sewage a day into the river is not a threat to public safety.
"Keep in mind on a given day here on the Mississippi there is 400 billion gallons going along, so it is really a thimble going into a swimming pool," LeComb said.
Along with the broken pumps, part of the problem is the system`s capacity, which is supposed to be increased over the next 20 years.
In the meantime, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment says there are things all of us can do to make the situation better.
"When the weather is rainy I always encourage people to take short showers and conserve water and put those six loads of laundry off until it dries up," Smith said. "It is an unfortunate side effect of having a sewer system that is under capacity."
MSD says one way or the other the problem should be fixed by the end of the week, either by getting the pumps working again, or by the river falling low enough that the pumps will no longer be needed.
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