Officials: Schuylkill sewage no risk to drinking water

Posted: September 02, 2011

Final estimates on exactly how many millions of gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Schuylkill from a water main break in Reading could be determined as soon as next week.

But the risk period for those whose downriver public water systems that draw directly from the waterway has passed, state environmental regulators said Friday.

"I was out doing fecal counts on the river today," said Krissy Pennypacker, laboratory supervisor for the Pottstown water system. "They've dropped off tremendously in the last couple of days."

Utility workers in Reading began diverting millions of gallons of sewage into the river Monday, after the weekend's heavy rains from Hurricane Irene tore a fist-size hole into the main.

While city officials initially estimated that the pipeline typically carries 12 million gallons of sewage a day, they estimated as much as 52 million gallons may have passed through it during the height of the storm, said Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The department has been working with the city to determine exactly how much water had to be diverted during the day and a half period before the pipeline was repaired.

Both Pottstown and Philadelphia rely on the Schuylkill for the millions of gallons of water their municipal utilities pump out to customers each day. Pottstown is the first water system downriver from Reading to draw directly from the river.

Although Reading advised these water systems to take extra precautions, Pennypacker said that contaminant readings from water pumped into Pottstown never reached levels above state regulations.

Still, utility managers added extra chlorine to their water to treat any abnormal contaminants.

Since the break Monday, Pennypacker has conducted extra water purity tests. But she said Friday that they will likely stop after this week.

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218,, or @inqmontco on Twitter. Read his blog, "MontCo Memo," at

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