Clean Ocean Action

Clean Ocean Advocate, September 2006


Bacteria Levels “Off the Charts”

   On August 15, a concerned and frustrated citizen alerted Clean Ocean Action (COA) to information that showed extremely high levels of bacterial pollution in Branchport Creek, a tributary of the Shrewsbury River in Monmouth County, NJ.  According to officials, this problem has been known for years.

   The fact that this has been going-on for two years, or more, shakes the foundation of our belief in NJ’s water quality testing program to protect public health and the marine environment,” said Cindy Zipf, COA Executive Director. 

     Data show levels of bacteria in the creek thousands of times higher than is acceptable to protect human health.  Specifically, tests performed by the Monmouth County Health Department document bacteria levels in an outfall pipe located on the grounds of Monmouth Park Racetrack adjacent to the stable area in the millions – which is orders of magnitude greater than the level safe for humans (104 colonies of enterococci per 100 milliliters).  Also, contamination affects marine life with excessive nutrients and other pollutants.

     “The test results suggest that the likely source of this bacteria is the racetrack,” said Dr. Jennifer Samson, COA Principal Scientist.  “The bacteria levels are off the charts and warrant immediate investigation and action.”

     COA, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and American Littoral Society sent a joint letter to NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson on August 17, demanding:

  • Immediate testing of waters in the region to determine the extent and magnitude of the contamination beyond Branchport Creek,
  • Substantial and visual signage posted in affected areas on land and in water, including all public access points; Marine Police to patrol the region informing people to stay out of the contaminated water,
  • Tests to determine the species source (horse or human) to confirm sources of pollution,
  • A meeting with all agencies, officials, and interested citizens to:
  • (a) review information, (b) identify source of pollution, (c) take action to eliminate continued release of bacteria, (d) understand how this happened, and (e) adopt state, county, and local policies to eliminate similar future circumstances.

     On August 17, the racetrack’s newly hired consultant told NJDEP that 75% of a pipeline carrying manure and runoff to the Twin Rivers Sewage Treatment Plant was blocked, causing manure to flow into the creek.  Operations are underway to clear the pipe.  Damage to the pipeline is suspected, so the next step is video inspection.  Any damage needs to be repaired quickly to ensure that waste flow to the treatment plant is maintained and waterway discharge is eliminated.  There are some indications pipeline inspection will be delayed until racing season ends in mid-September.  The NJDEP must quickly and permanently fix the problem and stop this source of pollution.

     The following day, more warning signs were posted by Monmouth County Health Department.  People should not swim, water-ski, or jet-ski in, or have any contact with bacteria-polluted waters; doing so can cause illnesses and diseases.  

     Stay tuned for updates on this developing issue.


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