Sewage Spills into Aquatic Park

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 08, 2008

Posted Tue., April 8—A sewage spill discovered at Bayer Healthcare's Berkeley campus at noon Monday prompted the city’s Division of Environmental Health to prohibit human contact with water in a section of the Berkeley Aquatic Park. 

City officials told the Planet Tuesday they would be able to disclose the spill amount—consisting primarily of human feces—after receiving a report from Bayer about the incident. 

The city’s Environmental Health Manager Manuel Ramirez described the spill, caused from a city sewer pipe blockage, as fairly small. 

The environmental health department collected water samples from Aquatic Park today (Tuesday) morning to test for fecal coliform bacteria, which is present in human feces, and carries pathogens that could infect humans. 

Bayer officials informed the city’s environmental health department about a sewer release at the campus south of Building 14, at 800 Dwight Way, at 12:40 p.m. Monday, Ramirez said, after which a team went out to the site to meet with Bayer representatives to try to eliminate the overflow and contain the spill. 

“Some of the effluent reached a storm drain which feeds a basin that enters a wetland area of Aquatic Park,” Ramirez said. “We put up signs between Bancroft Way and Carlton to warn people to avoid contact with water. At this point the total spill amount or that of the effluent which reached the storm drain has not been reported. I know they were able to clear the blocking and took action to contain the spill between 2 and 3 p.m.” 

The area posted by the environmental health department includes the Dreamland children’s playground and the beginning of the disc golf course, where golfers often wade through water to rescue their discs. 

Bayer’s Berkeley campus, located next to the Aquatic Park, is the company’s global center for hemophilia and cardiology pharmaceuticals and manufactures Kogenate, a large protein pharmaceutical which treats hemophilia. 

The campus Community Relations Manager Trina Ostrander said the size of the spill was “fairly significant.” 

“It’s hard to give an estimate because it was flowing,” she said. “But the only thing that goes into the pipe from Bayer is human waste and clean water.” 

Ostrander said that a couple of Bayer employees had discovered the spill and notified the campus emergency response team. 

“Our environmental manager contacted the city,” she said. “The pipe is under Bayer property but it’s a city pipe so both the teams worked together to contain the spill.” 

The city’s Public Works Department is investigating the layout of the blocked pipe which carries sewer from the campus, Ramirez said. 

Calls to Public Works for comment from the Planet were not returned by press time. 

“Of course you don’t want a spill,” said the city’s Public Information Officer Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. “But the right people are on it taking the right step.”  

The water samples will be sent to a public lab to test for possible human sewage and the results will be available within the next two days, Ramirez said. 

“We are monitoring to make sure that the bacteria levels are below what could affect humans,” he said. “We are advising people to stay out of the water and will keep the signs up until the testing is completed and we know its safe to go into the water ... Some of these underground sewer pipes are quite old, although the city has done some updates.”