Raw sewage from Reading spills into Schuylkill

Posted: September 03, 2011

Millions of gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Schuylkill from a sewer main break in Reading this week, with a final estimate of the spill to be determined as soon as next week.

But the risk for those whose downriver public-utility systems 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 that as many 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 how much water had to be diverted during the day and a half 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. She said Friday that they would likely stop after this week.

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com,

or @inqmontco on Twitter. Read his blog, "MontCo Memo," at www.philly.com/montcomemo.

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