How Clean Was Sewage St. Pete Government Pumped into Ground During Hurricane Irma? We May Never Know.

The city doesn't know if it injected dangerous bacteria into the ground during hurricane Irma. 15.5 Million gallons were injected.

The city doesn’t know if it injected dangerous bacteria into the ground during hurricane Irma. 15.5 Million gallons were injected. Image from Baypost, Eugene Webb, P.D.

They are asking us to trust them. Mayor Kriseman’s sewage record tells us we should not trust the city government or his administration. On 9/11/17, the day after Hurricane Irma had passed through St. Petersburg, the city pumped over 15 million gallons of partially treated sewage water straight into the ground. They can’t tell us exactly what it contained. They have claims and suppositions, but no measurements on the things that matter.  However, a Sunbeam Times investigation reveals that the wastewater could still have been bacterially active and did not receive the adequate chlorine treatment to ensure all bacteria were killed.

City Cover Up on Injected Sewage

The City was not forthcoming about the fact that it injected partially treated sewage into the ground directly under the city of St. Petersburg. City Councilman Steve Kornell blew the whistle on this on October 19, and it was the subject of this week’s city council meeting. The city took a month to reveal that it had not completely treated the water it reclaimed from sewage and then pumped in the ground. Of course, the city had planned this long ago. A city consultant had recommended pumping even untreated sewage in the ground if it would keep it from going in the bay. Certainly, that would have less of a political impact, but certainly not a good environmental impact – especially for a Mayor and city administration that claims to be protectors of the environment at every occasion. The political motivation to pump partially treated sewage into the ground was on display this week’s city council meeting with pro-Kriseman members stating it was better than dumping sewage in to local waters. Of course, all of this could have been avoided if Kriseman had not closed the Albert Whitted plant in the first place – preventing the loss of storage capacity when the city went from four sewage treatment sites to three.

After two weeks of inquiry by the Sunbeam Times, details are finally emerging as to what was actually injected. It turns out a key fact was never revealed: the material may have been biologically active – meaning live bacteria could have been part of the injection.

Were Bacteria Injected into Ground?

The city recently revealed that it pumped 15.5 Million gallons of partially treated water into the ground over 20 hours on 9/11 beginning at 530 am (Irma had passed the night before). The city had violated Florida law and was required to report to the State department of Environmental Protection. The report indicated that the material was of “Low Chlorine Residual” (report here). How low? Zero chlorine content.

Sunbeam Times editor and founder Dr. David McKalip interviewed Frank Niles, an Operations Specialist for the water reclamation facility.  He revealed that they had attempted to treat the water effluent with 8,000 pounds of chlorine. However that was not enough to overcome the amount of nitrite in the water and purify it to the standards required for injection. Thus the amount of chlorine was at “zero” instead of the required amount to ensure the water is cleared of bacteria. Mr. Niles also revealed that the water had a very high nitrite content. Nitrite results when ammonia is converted by bacteria living in the sewage as it sits in sludge tanks. According to the Southwest Water Management District, oxygen mixes with the sewage sludge to interact with bacteria in the sewage to convert ammonia to nitrites (according to the EPA).  The ammonia is present in sewage due to the action of bacteria in stool in the sewage, human waste and other surface waters.

The fact that so much nitrite was present indicates that there was an initial high amount of ammonia. Mr. Niles asserts that the high nitrite would generally indicate a low remaining ammonia amount since it would then have been converted to nitrite. What Mr. Niles could not answer is what caused the high ammonia content. It is possible that this was due to high bacteria from initial sewage and could possibly still have been present at a high amount as it was converted to nitrite. Mr. Niles indicated that the nitrite level was “off the charts” on a sample that was retained and analyzed after the injection into the ground.

The question that is open and not really answerable is this: Is it possible that the high nitrite count may have indicated a high amount of still unconverted ammonia in the sewage that could indicate a high bacterial count?

Mr. Niles states this is not likely and that the bacteria count was probably low to none. However, it was not measured. The county emergency operations center had reportedly indicated that city employees could not go outside the building to measure the water prior to injecting. The water was injected at 530 in the morning and the eye was passing at 2 am. The County was not contacted to determine if such a command was issued to prevent measurement of the water.

Thus the report of the city to the State Department of Environmental Protection indicated that there was no data on coliforms (bacteria in human stool) or solids (whether it was clear or contained sludge).

Mr. Niles indicates that he personally saw the water going into the ground and it was “clear”.  He also stated that the chlorine was contacting the water for 49 minutes in the pipe prior to injection. However, he admits the chlorine was being “eaten up” by the nitrites. It is unclear if the chlorine was instead actually interacting with ammonia, since that is a known reaction according to the EPA. Thus, while Mr. Niles denies this could occur, it is possible the water had a high ammonia content (and thus high bacteria) leading to the low chlorine count.

Thus the city is operating on suppositions that the water they injected into the ground was clean. However they have no measurements to prove it. In addition, the amount of chlorine (zero) was not high enough to meet state standards to say it was sanitized prior to injecting into the ground.

The State has previously fined St. Petersburg for injecting dirty water into the ground, which endangers our natural aquifer.

Do you Trust the City to Inject your “cleaned” Sewage Water into the Ground?

The city of St. Petersburg, and Mayor Kriseman in particular, has a bad track record of transparency on the sewage issue. He has been caught bullying and punishing employees who try to tell the truth about sewage dumps. He had allowed 200 million gallons of sewage to be pumped into bay area waters in 2016. Now the city and Mayor Kriseman wants us to trust that the water that came from sewage is clean enough to inject directly into the ground beneath our city where drinking water is naturally present and can be contaminated.

The citizens of St. Petersburg should ask themselves if it is better to inject the partially treated sewage into the ground or to re-open the Albert Whitted Treatment plant to remove all doubt about the quality of our water and for environmental protection. They should also ask themselves if they should re-elect Kriseman to run the city government that continues to fail when it comes to sewage. The election for St. Petersburg Mayor closes on November 7.


6 Replies:

  1. Tom D

    I am not sure what is worse… the sewage dumping or the covering up and dishonesty associated with dumping. Kriseman is harming St. Pete’s image. We need new leadership asap!

  2. Rod Moren

    What ensures the latest 15.5 million gallons of wastewater injected in the ground on 9/11/2017 , or any future ?able wastewater ground injections, will not get into a well eventually, used for drinking water by someone or a family?

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