JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When Irma blew in, the electricity went out.
A pump station, part of Jacksonville’s sewage system, at 7535 International Village lost power and released 107,000 gallons of sewage into the street and neighboring yards.
“It was stinky - stinky,” Ronda Henderson said while standing in her driveway beside the pump station. “It was awful, really awful.”
The spill was just one of scores of leaks of wastewater and raw sewage into streets, lakes, rivers and neighborhoods, described in pollution filings compiled by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
First Coast News review of JEA Environmental Incident Reports found there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.
Power outage, equipment failure, and water intake are listed as the three primary causes for the discharges.
JEA CEO Paul McElroy said the sewer system processed 600 million gallons of sewage during the four hours of the storm.
“That is double our normal capacity,” he said.
“Busy, busy,” JEA crew leader Arthur Jackson said as he and the other two members of his team worked to clean up and mitigate 256,000 gallons of sewage that spilled out when a pump station on 101st street lost power.
Much of the overflow ended up in a tributary to Fisher Creek which flows about a block down the street from the pump station.
“That’s raw sewage!” Jackson exclaimed while pointing to a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches.
“Kids might come by and play in the water or something, we don’t want that happening,” Jackson said while directing his crew’s truck to the site.
The JEA mitigation crews are using large trucks that work like a giant vacuum cleaner to suck up the polluted water.
After that is complete, another team comes by to spread lime over the sight to kill the smell and bacteria.
The bacteria from the sewage infused flood waters are a serious health threat across Florida.
“Bacteria, Staph, Strep, different fungi, Vibrio, sewage,” Dr. Pierce Futch listed off quickly when asked what was in the flood waters that are still receding across Florida.
One of his patients developed a staph infection in her foot after coming in contact with sewage in the floodwaters around her downtown business.
“I just didn’t realize I had cuts on my feet, and apparently, something happened to my toenail and so it started swelling and getting infected,” the woman, who asked not to be identified, said as she showed First Coast News her red and swollen foot.
Medical experts expect the health impact from Irma to be present for several weeks.
“We continue to test any water body that might have received some of the sewer from the collection system,” McElroy with JEA told reporters Friday afternoon.
“Those tests are ongoing,” he said, “and should last for another couple days and we will be all clear at that time.”
McElroy says the sewage leaks had the potential to cause catastrophic environmental issues but he claims the quick confinement efforts by his crews prevented a bad situation from getting worse.
While crews spread lime on impacted areas and pronounce them cleaned up, Ronda Henderson is still afraid to even walk in the grass of her yard knowing that it was sewage coated flood site just a few days ago.
“It was all up here, all up here,” she said while waving her arm to indicate where the waist deep water reached. “It was bad!”
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