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Raw sewage spills in Sinclair Inlet

Although 280,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into Sinclair Inlet last week, local health officials say the sewage poses little risk to Bremerton residents.

Initially the spill was estimated at 560,000 gallons, but Gene Sampley, public works director, said the revised total is 280,000.

The spill came from Bremerton’s stormwater-separation project, where contractors failed to plug a connection on a sewer line, sending sewage down a stormwater pipe to the Inlet.

The pipe was plugged Tuesday, July 23, and since then, Sampley says the contractor has vacuumed the stormwater pipe and manhole wells to collect remaining sewage.

The city will not be responsible for cleanup costs.

As for the shores of Sinclair Inlet, stretching to Evergreen park, no cleaning is necessary, said Keith Grellner, a specialist at the local environmental health department.

Because the spill occurred over a period of a week, Grellner said the sewage was diluted enough not to build up on the shore, and so far, he has not found any visible chunks.

“For all the non-visible stuff the tide usually takes care of it,” he said.

Most or all of the contaminated materials will clear out of the bay within a week, Grellner says.

Raw sewage includes anything Bremerton residents flush down their toilets, washing machines, sinks or storm drains.

It is illegal for businesses that handle hazardous waste to dump it down the drain.

Since the spill, Grellner has posted signs advising people not to swim until Wednesday, July 31 at Sinclair Inlet and Port Washington Narrows.

Although permanent signs advise people not to harvest shellfish in the area because of industrial pollution, a sewage spill increases chances of harm from consumption.

Shellfish can retain bacteria and viruses from the sewage for 30 days, said Grellner.

Because fish are not filter feeders like shellfish, and tend to swim away from pollutants in a sewage spill, he said they are at less risk for contamination. People are still advised not to fish for the next week.

A raw sewage spill will probably not cause long-term damage to the shore, the fish or people, said Grellner.

“The hard thing is you’ll never really know,” he said.

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