December 2, 2013

Officials Baffled by Discharge of Chemicals in Ithaca’s Sewers

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Officials are turning to the public in their attempt to find out who dumped a “significant volume” of chemicals into the City of Ithaca’s sewer system.

In a statement, officials said they believe that the individual responsible released the chemicals — which they said might be cleaning solution, solvent or something else — into a building drain or manhole cover on Nov. 23 or Nov. 24. Although the discharge did not likely affect the city’s water supply, it disrupted activity at the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility, according to Dan Ramer, chief operator of the facility.

The treatment facility processes wastewater from the City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca and Town of Dryden and recycles the clean water into Cayuga Lake. Because of the chemicals, however, the microbes the facility uses to remove pollutants from wastewater were not able to treat the water as effectively.

Ultimately, Ramer said, the discharge probably did not cause significant damage to Cayuga Lake’s ecosystem. The issue was more of a “short-term problem,” he said, adding that, on the other hand, “if we were discharging that quality of water every day, that would be a problem.”

The discharge could have been either a small quantity of very concentrated chemicals or a large quantity of very diluted chemicals, Ramer said. The individual who released the chemicals could have unloaded anything from a “55-gallon drum to a tanker truck” into the sewer system, he added.

Ramer said he does not think foul play was involved and added that there will likely be no criminal investigation into the matter.

Still, facility officials believe the discharge did not come from a residence, according to a city press release.

“This is such an unusual event [that] we’re still kind of scratching our heads and trying to figure it out,” Ramer said.

Ramer said he encourages anyone who knows information about the sources of the discharge to contact city officials.