Documents obtained by The Sault Star show runoff with high levels of E. coli regularly entered the St. Mary's River during the heavy rainfalls of June and July.
However, the co-chair of a binational effort to monitor water quality on the river notes corresponding water samples taken downriver tested within acceptable standards, disproving allegations that residents of a nearby Michigan island are regular recipients of the Ontario Sault's waste.
"There is no sewage in there," said Debbie Burniston, co-chair of the Sugar Island Monitoring Work Group.
"There's been a lot of rain this year. We do see exceedances coming through this year, and that is not an uncommon thing anywhere. We expect to see that coming through storm sewers."
The group is made up of four agencies that collect samples on multiple sites along the river -- Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, Algoma Public Health, the Chippewa County Department of Health -- and two that oversee the results: Environment Canada's office in Burlington, Ont., where Burniston works, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The binational agency was formed after longstanding complaints from residents of Sugar Island's north shore that what appeared to be floating human waste regularly washed up on their beaches, leading straight from the outflow pipe of the Ontario Sault's old east-end sewage treatment plant on Queen Street East.
The allegations are the subject of a lawsuit filed Saturday with the United States District Court in Michigan's western district. About 100 residents and the township of Sugar Island have sued Sault Ste. Marie Public Utilities Commission for "the discharge of human sewage into American waters that has resulted in the contamination of the St. Mary's River and Sugar Island's north shore properties."
The issue made headlines on both sides of the border when Chippewa Health closed down the island's public beach for the duration of the summer of 2006 after testing positive for high rates of E. coli, a bacterium found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded animals.
By that fall Sault, Ont. had an upgraded plant operational, with secondary treatment to further break down waste.
However, the municipality also has several outflow pipes into the river to accommodate storm sewers in case of heavy rain.
The working group has set a minimum of 300 "colony-forming units" of E. coli per 100 ml of water before calling it an exceedance; by contrast, Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care mandates closure of public beaches when levels reach more than 100 CFU/100 ml.
Who was that alarmist again that posted a while back about all the sewage causing this issue? It was RW something, I can't remember right now...