Raw sewage has begun to seep into some homes served by the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, and officials have begun diverting effluent into Rockaway Channel after the facility was flooded by superstorm Sandy.Officials shut down the plant Wednesday after a 9-foot tidal surge breached the East Rockaway facility on Monday.
The plant serves 550,000 residents, about 40 percent of Nassau residents. Officials are urging the public to conserve water to take pressure off the system and reduce the danger of backups.
At a news conference outside the plant, County Executive Edward Mangano said Nassau was facing a "public health emergency."
He stressed conservation, noting that "the more water you put down your drain or through your septic system, it's going to add pressure on this and you are going to get it back."
County officials said 9 feet of saltwater surged into the plant's basement and subbasement, causing major damage to the plant's infrastructure.
Massive industrial-sized sewage pumps are being delivered to the plant from six states, some from as far away as Virginia. In the interim, plant officials are relieving pressure on the system by diverting raw sewage directly into Rockaway Channel.
The plant serves residents in areas west of the Meadowbrook State Parkway and south of the Long Island Expressway, including East Rockaway, Lynbrook, Great Neck, Mineola and the Five Towns. County officials did not have estimates of how many homes or businesses were experiencing backups.
Howie Griesch, who has lived for 35 years on Fourth Avenue in Bay Park, had more than a foot of sewage in his basement Wednesday afternoon.
"We need a hazmat team," Griesch said as he prepared to evacuate his home. "It's a toxic situation."
Ken Muxie, who has lived across the street for 53 years, wore boots as he waded knee-deep in water and sewage on his side lawn, using hoses and pumps for drainage. "I'm not leaving," he said. "I need to stay and take care of my property."
An undetermined number of homeowners in Rockville Centre also reported sewage in their basements, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said.
Mangano issued a "conserve water order" Wednesday for residents served by the plant, banning them from washing cars or watering grass and directing them to limit toilet flushing, shorten shower times and use washers and dryers only with full loads.
The county will perform repairs to the plant over the next month but a long-term fix could take up to a year, Mangano said. The county has yet to determine the cost of the repairs, Nevin said.
A fire that broke out in a plant maintenance building Wednesday morning was unrelated to the operational problems, officials said.Suffolk County Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson said Wednesday that all of the county's sewage treatment plants, including the large Bergen Point facility in West Babylon, were operating without major problems.
"We're doing all right," Anderson said. "We're running on generators, but everything's operational."
Suffolk officials oversee 192 wastewater management facilities, including those that are privately operated. The public Southwest Sewer District, which includes Bergen Point, serves nearly 90,000 properties, many in the hardest-hit areas of the South Shore.
Nassau County officials are warning residents served by the Bay Park Sewage Treatment System to avoid contact with raw sewage that may back up in basements, streets and at manhole covers. Residents are cautioned to:
Wear gloves and use soap and water for any cleanup.
Disinfect affected areas with a 10 percent household bleach solution.
Discard items that cannot be cleaned
Source: Nassau County Department of Health