State regulators have issued a notice of violation to the city for higher-than-acceptable E. coli bacteria levels on Merriam Street in North Chattanooga.
At least two sewer lines are “sheet flowing across 806 Merriam Street and entering the storm sewer system” on Peak Street, Dr. Richard Urban with the water pollution control division in the local Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation office told the city in a June 30 letter. “These illicit discharges pose a threat to human health and the environment.”
City officials acknowledge that a house on Merriam Street may have a leaky sewer line that’s “possibly leaking sanitary sewage” into the city’s stormwater system and into the “Tennessee River area” but say the problem is being addressed.
In his letter, addressed to Mayor Ron Littlefield, Dr. Urban said that at least two sewer service lines are ruptured and that his division “was surprised that such obvious sources (of E. coli bacteria) were not immediately addressed.”
While E. coli occurs naturally in the lower intestine of warm-blooded animals, some strains of the bacterium can cause severe food poisoning. A 2006 outbreak of E. coli from contaminated spinach caused 205 confirmed illnesses and three deaths in the country, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Urban also said in the letter that the homeowners at 808 Merriam St. and 812 Merriam St. have been given notices of violation as well to make mandated fixes to their sewer lines.
Lee Norris, deputy administrator of Chattanooga’s Department of Public Works, said the state is wrong when it says the city did not adequately look into the matter of possible sewer line discharges into the stormwater system.
ON THE WEB
Learn more about the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation at www.tennessee.gov/environment
He said smoke and dye tests were conducted on service lines at 808 Merriam St. and 812 Merriam St., and those tests showed there are no leaks on those lines.
“We are in the process of preparing a response to (the state) outlining our position,” Mr. Norris said Thursday. “We are requesting them to rescind the notice of violation.”
The city did a smoke test of the sewer service line at 806 Merriam St. on July 2, Mr. Norris said, and discovered there is a 95 percent likelihood that there is a fissure or break in that line.
A Public Works letter dated July 3 to Harold Smith, who lives at 806 Merriam St., states that the home’s sewer service line “has some defects and is possibly leaking sanitary sewage” into the city’s stormwater system.
Mr. Norris said Mr. Smith has been sent an application to receive financial aid from the city to make any repairs.
Mr. Smith said Thursday that he always has maintained a cleaned-out sewer service line.
“I can’t see nothing wrong with it myself … as long as the water’s going out,” he said.
Jerry Stewart, director of the waste resources division under Public Works, said it is a homeowner’s job to fix service lines.
“If it had been … our responsibility, we would have taken care of it,” he said.
Mr. Norris said the source of the E. coli most likely is animal droppings.
“If they found E. coli, it’s 99.9 percent probable that it came from animals,” Mr. Norris said.