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What Sewage Spills Mean For Miami-Dade Residents And The Environment

Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department
The June 20 sewage break sent waste into the Biscayne Canal and parts of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Over a period of eight hours on June 20, more than 700,000 gallons of raw sewage — poop and wastewater — spilled from a 63-inch pipe on NW 155 Lane, just south of State Road 826 near the Golden Glades.   

4,400 gallons were "recovered," according to the spill report. An unknown amount remained in the pipe and nearby basins or was absorbed into the ground. The rest made its way into the nearest waterways, primarily Biscayne Canal and parts of the Intracoastal. An advisory to avoid swimmingwas issued. 

"This is a pretty significant spill that we're talking about here," said Kelly Cox of Miami Waterkeepers, an environmental advocacy group.

A Miami-Dade County status report for July through December 2016 shows that more than one million gallons of waste water were spilled in similar line breaks over the entire second half of last year. 

When waste is released into a waterway, the county's water and sewer department issues a no-contact advisory for the affected region as it cleans. 

The advisory for the June 20 spill was lifted on June 28after Department of Health and Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) testing showed the site was satisfactorily clear of contaminants.

"Sewage spills really impact human health. They contain disease causing pathogens and bacteria that can make people sick," Cox said. "It's also really problematic for our wildlife."

Read more: Sewage Tests After Sewage Spills Don't Give A Complete Picture of Health Risks

Miami-Dade has the largest water and sewer department in the Southeast and breaks are inevitable as infrastructure ages, department spokesperson Jennifer Messemer said. 

"We have pipes that are in service that are in excess of 80-years-old," Messemer said. "I would say that the average age of pipes in the county is 50-years-old."

The county is in its fourth year of a roughly 20 year project that will replace thousands of miles of pipes in the system.

Messemer says the project is only for county lines, adding that homeowners are responsible for the sewage lines stretching from their sinks to where those pipes intersect with the main lines under the street. To keep those pipes clear, she suggests not dumping grease down the drain and cutting back on the food that gets into the sink disposal.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the spill occurred over eight hours, not over a half-hour, as we originally stated. According to the spill report from the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewage Department, it took an estimated 30 minutes for action to be taken at the site of the spill. Also, we originally stated that the Florida Department of Health and DERM worked on the cleaning process.  The Water and Sewage department worked on the cleaning process. The Department of Health and DERM tested water samples for satisfactory decontamination. We regret the errors.

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