PORT ANGELES – Test results are expected to reveal today if the water at Hollywood Beach and Valley Creek Estuary is safe for recreation after a four-day hiatus.
Kayaking and other recreational activities were banned for precautionary reasons when about 100,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled early Friday morning after a driver whom police said was drunk crashed his car into the Front Street wastewater pump station.
Clallam County Environmental Health Director Andy Brastad said Monday that water tests conducted at the agency’s courthouse lab in Port Angeles should be completed by 2 p.m. today to determine if fecal coliform levels are low enough to allow human activity.
The sewage introduced pathogens such as bacteria and viruses into the water that would have to enter an open cut or be ingested in large quantities to induce illness, he said.
As of now, the risk of getting sick “is really low,” he said.
“But it’s just about zero if you don’t go in at all. For public health purposes, we always take the most cautious approach.”
He predicted the spill would have “a minimal impact” on water quality.
It was the second spill of untreated sewage from Pump Station 4, located on Front Street at Valley Creek Estuary Park, in nearly four years.
On May 23, 2006, an aging sewer main at the pump station burst, spewing more than eight million gallons into Port Angeles Harbor over three days.
Health officials closed a 30-mile stretch of beaches from Joyce to Sequim to swimming, wading and shellfish-digging.
Police say Michael Fernandes, 22, of Port Angeles, crashed into the wastewater pump station at 313 Front St. at 2:30 a.m. Friday, causing about $20,000 in damage, “if not more,” city Public Works Director Glenn Cutler said.
Untreated sewage overflowed into the harbor beginning at about 5 a.m. Friday and lasting for about 90 minutes before electricity was restored and wastewater pumps reactivated.
Fernandes was treated at Olympic Medical Center and released.
In Friday’s spill, police said Fernandes did not appear to have used his brakes before the car he was driving crashed into the building at a high rate of speed.
His arraignment on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol is 9 a.m. today in Clallam County District Court.
Fernandes remained in Clallam County jail on $750 bail as of late Monday afternoon.
What ended up in the harbor as a result of the collision with the pump station was whatever city residents flush down their toilets and wash down their drains, Cutler said.
“You couldn’t see stuff,” Cutler said.
The wastewater includes pharmaceuticals such as unused and unknown quantities of residents’ medication and medicinal hormones that they flush down toilets.
The pharmaceuticals can include medications that contain endocrine disrupters, which can change the hormone activity in fish to the extent that male fish turn into females, Brastad said.
Pharmaceuticals are not measured when the harbor’s water quality is tested, he added.
Poisonous heavy metals and toxic, oil-based chemicals also make their way into the harbor, borne by storm water.
“There is some storm water that gets treated in the treatment plant,” Cutler said. “A lot of goes into creeks, streams and directly into the harbor.”
The city is expected to acquire a Rayonier Inc. storage tank to store sewage and stormwater overflow if the Port Angeles Harbor-Works Development Authority buys the Rayonier property from the company.
Cutler said he is preparing contracts to repair the pump station, adding that it appears Fernandes’ car insurance will pay for the damage.
The pump station will eventually be replaced and moved to the south side of Front Street as part of a $42 million project to prevent sewage and storm water from entering the harbor.
Waste water is pumped from the station through underwater pipes to the city’s sewage treatment plant about two miles east of the station.
Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]