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Raw Sewage A Problem In Tiny Mulberry, Florida

By KJ Mullins     Jul 12, 2008 in Environment
The tiny town of Mulberry, Florida has a big problem. Raw sewage has leaked out in the heart of this town with a little more than 3,000 people threatening to expose health risks. It has an even bigger problem, the cost to fix it will break the bank.
There is a vacant lot in the center of Mulberry that concerns the state's Department of Environmental Protection. On that lot 205,605 gallons of raw sewage was discharged between February and May. That spill could end up costing the city up to hundreds of thousands just in fines. The clean up could cost even more. In a poor county like Polk where it lays those funds just aren't available in the city's rainy day funds.
Chuck Moore who owns the property told the city about the stinky problem over a year ago in April 2007. That means this leak has been going on for a long time, long enough to have spewed over a million gallons of human waste right in the center of town. Tests conducted for Moore and the DEP show the soil and standing surface liquid are loaded with fecal coliform. When fecal coliform is present the potential for include ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, and hepatitis A is also present. Not a pretty picture for this quaint southern town.
The city promises to replace the leaking sewer pipe and remove the contaminated soil from Moore's land putting clean soil to replace it. In a month that is, another month that will allow even more sewage to escape.
So far there is at least one neighbour who has health issues that could have stemmed from the smelly stew. Irene Mercado lives next door, or lived there until her doctor ordered her to move until the problem is fixed. She has been diagnosed with a staph bacteria infection called MRSA. Her home has taken on a stank that comes from Moore's property. Her body is covered with rashes. She coughs a lot. For the time being she is staying in Lakeland with her daughter who has taken the ailing woman in.
A potential huge problem lays downstream of Moore's property. Purcell Elementary School's playground fence runs along a storm water ditch that is full of the sewage. The Polk School System has begun testing the soil to see if it has become contaminated. If the tests that are due in this week show a problem it's going to cost the city not the School Board to fix it.
We don't have an option of not providing a safe playground,' Schools Superintendent Gail McKinzie told the Lakeland Ledger. 'Mulberry needs to step up and get it right.'
It's not just the people who are suffering, animals are turning up dead on the property. So far Moore has found ducks and otters that have died. He also found an alligator who had died and another one that had a strange dark yellow colouring.
Moore had planned to build a home on the property as a model. That is no longer possible as the leak has softened the ground and it is unstable to build on. He is now suing the city for running city pipes onto his private property and is adding the sewage leak onto the lawsuit.
Now here's the scariest aspect of this problem. Moore's little leak may be coming from a pipe that isn't on his property.
'The city's records aren't the best,' he said. 'And some of these pipes go back years and years and years.'
Keith Hall, the city's utilities director acknowledged sewage has leaked onto Moore's property. 'But just because it's leaking onto his property doesn't mean the pipe is on his property.'
Moore said environmental specialists have poured dye into a lift station on Fourth Avenue to try and see if it leaks and where.
When the lift station fills up and begins pumping, Moore said, 'the dye goes everywhere.'
The city has shut down that pump and vacuums the waste daily. A new pipe is on the schedule to be installed sometime next month. The cost for the repairs will be between $100,000 and $125,000. The cost of the soil replacement hasn't been calculated yet.
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