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Letter to City of Toronto requesting sewage spill cleanup - August 2018

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The average rainfall for the entire month of August landed on Toronto in a single 24-hour period on August 7, 2018. Heavy rainfall is known to cause sewage spills on the Toronto waterfront, so the Swim Drink Fish Monitoring Team went to Harbourfront on the morning of August 8, 2018. They found evidence of a major sewage spill that poses a threat to public and environmental health. This letter to the City of Toronto requests immediate cleanup of the sewage debris.

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Letter to City of Toronto requesting sewage spill cleanup - August 2018

  1. 1.     August 9, 2018    City of Toronto  ℅ Frank Quarisa Acting General Manager Toronto Water (Via email)  and 311 Toronto (Via Twitter)    Re: August 7 2018 Sewage Spill Cleanup Request    Dear Mr. Quarisa / City of Toronto,     As you know, the average rainfall for the entire month of August landed on Toronto in a single  24-hour period on August 7, 2018. Reports are that between 70 and 100 mm of rain fell (TRCA/  Toronto Star) on the city. Streets were flooded and the sewer system was overwhelmed.      Lake Ontario Waterkeeper / Swim Drink Fish Canada has been documenting sewage pollution in  Toronto since 2001. In response to public demand for reliable, current water quality information,  we have been conducting regular monitoring of water quality in Toronto’s Inner Harbour at three  locations since 2016: Marina Four, Rees Street Slip, and Bathurst Quay. The results are published  to the Swim Guide (​www.theswimguide.org​) and on the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper website  (​www.waterkeeper.ca​).    Heavy rainfall is known to cause sewage spills on the Toronto waterfront, so the Swim Drink Fish  Monitoring Team went to Harbourfront on the morning of August 8, 2018. They found evidence of  a major sewage spill that poses a threat to public and environmental health.     We are writing to you today to inform you of our findings and to request immediate action.     As you know, we have consistently recommended that the City of Toronto communicate clear,  detailed information to the public about when and where sewage spills occur. The severity of this  week’s sewage spill requires swift action in order to minimize risks to public and environmental  health..    Much of the sewage debris remains in the Toronto Harbour. ​We ask that you arrange for  cleanup crews to remove the waste, condoms, needles, tampons, and other debris immediately.    Water quality in the Harbour is compromised.​ We ask that you issue a detailed public advisory  about Harbour water quality and test the water in popular water uses areas until bacteria levels  return to levels that meet Ontario’s Provincial Water Quality Objectives.     1 
  2. 2. Water Quality Problems  Between the hours of 9:30am and 11:30am on Wednesday August 8, 2018, Swim Drink Fish’s  Toronto Harbour Monitoring Team tested harbour water for coliform and ​E. coli​ bacteria in three  locations: Marina Four, Rees Street Slip / Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak, and Bathurst Quay.      The results of ​E. coli​ testing were the highest ever recorded by our monitoring team at Marina  Four: >24,196.0 ​E. coli ​/ 100 mL of water. The results from Marina 4 were at least 241 times higher  than the City of Toronto’s 100 ​E. coli​ / 100 mL guideline for recreational water quality and at least  24 times higher than Canada’s Recreational Water Quality Guidelines for boaters. Actual ​E. coli  levels at Marina Four may be much higher; the test values were outside the reportable range,  even though the highest dilution factor (1:10) was used.     The results were also amongst the highest ever recorded by our team at Bathurst Quay (13,488.8  E. coli​ / 100 mL) and at Rees Street Slip (790.2 ​E. coli​ / 100 mL).    August 8, 2018: Detailed Water Quality Monitoring Results ​(E. coli)    Figure 1. ​Water quality testing results for Inner Harbour locations August 8, 2018. Comparison  with municipal and provincial guidelines for recreational water use.    Marina 4  Rees St. Slip  Bathurst Quay  Sample 1  >24,196.0  1,413.6  2,282.0  Sample 2  >24,196.0  579.9  7,701.0  Sample 3  >24,196.0  1,119.9  >24,196.0  Sample 4  >24,196.0  547.5  >24,196.0  Sample 5  >24,196.0  613.1  >24,196.0  Sample 6  >24,196.0  -  >24,196.0  Geometric Mean  >24,196.0  790.2  13,488.8    City of Toronto   Recreational Water Standard  100 ​E. coli​ / 100 mL of water  Canadian / Ontario  Recreational Water Quality  Guidelines  200 ​E. coli​ / 100 mL of water (primary contact i.e., swimming)  1,000 ​E. coli​ / 100 mL of water (secondary contact i.e., boating,  fishing)    2
  3. 3. It took 4-7 days for water quality to return to normal levels the last time we collected water  samples after a rain event like this one. For that reason, we are concerned that water quality  issues may persist in the Toronto Harbour through the weekend when visits to Harbourfront  peak.     Sewage Debris   Field observations, photographs and video collected in the morning and afternoon of August 8,  2018 show a large amount of floating sewage debris in the water, including condoms, tampons  and tampon applicators, and sanitary napkins. Deceased animals, including birds and fish, were  also observed. Noticeable foul odour and discolouration of the water were noted down.     Field Observations Summary: Unnatural Colour, Turbidity, Odour, and Debris  ● Visible grey-brown discolouration in the water and turbid ‘milky’ appearance  ● Noticeable odour at Marina Four and Bathurst Quay sites  ● Large amount of debris at all three sites - including floating sewage debris    August 8, 2018: Field Observations by Site    Marina Four:​ Green-brown colour of water, turbid appearance, strong sewage odour, surface  scum and sheen, large amount of garbage and sewage debris - including condoms, tampons,  tampon applicators, sanitary napkins. Appearance of disintegrated toilet paper throughout.    Rees Street Slip / Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak: ​Light green colour of water, cloudy  appearance, large amount of visible garbage and sewage debris - including condoms, tampons,  tampon applicators, and sanitary napkins. Deceased animals observed on water surface including  fish (carp) and waterfowl.    Bathurst Quay: ​Grey-brown colour of water, turbid appearance, strong sewage odour, surface  scum and sheen, significant amount of sewage debris and garbage - including condoms,  tampons, tampon applicators, and sanitary napkins.    Visits to those same locations in the morning of August 9, 2018 confirm that Rees Street Slip and  Bathurst Quay are still littered with sewage debris. Marina 4 has been cleaned up.     Active Recreational Water Use  On August 8, recreational water users - including 15-20 children - were seen paddling on the  water at the Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre at the Rees Street testing location. At least  one child was observed having primary contact with the water; the child had fallen in the water  3
  4. 4. while paddling. Recreational water users were observed paddling and boating in the area again  on August 9, 2018.     The active use of the waterfront in the aftermath of a major sewage spill highlights the need for  immediate cleanup, monitoring, and public awareness actions.     The City of Toronto (311 Toronto) has issued information about wastewater treatment plant  bypasses caused by severe precipitation and a general wet weather advisory. However, there  have been no public advisories warning recreational users about combined sewer overflows in  the Inner Harbour. Visitors should be informed that contact with the water in the Inner Harbour in  the next few days exposes them to raw sewage and that precautions can help reduce exposure  to bacteria and waterborne illnesses.    Both the amount of visible sewage debris and the levels of ​E. coli​ bacteria significantly exceed  what the Monitoring Team has observed in previous years. The scale of this sewage spill  warrants immediate action to protect public health, water quality and habitat, and to restore the  aesthetics of this important tourist and recreational destination.     Historical Water Quality Findings Swim Drink Fish began the Toronto Harbour Community Monitoring project in 2016 in order to  address the lake of water quality data in one of North America’s busiest recreational harbours, an  area that is currently unmonitored by any governmental agency.    In addition to collecting water samples, the Toronto Harbour Monitoring Team records  environmental observations at each site, including water temperature, colour, clarity, odour,  turbidity, and signs of pollution. To date, from 2016 - 2018, we have made 54 individual sampling  trips to the Inner Harbour. Each time the field team conducts sampling, 5-6 samples are collected  from each of the three locations and analyzed for ​E. coli​ and total coliform. The geometric mean  from those 5+ samples is then calculated for each of the locations.    Sewage debris, and other signs of sewage discharges, were observed routinely at Marina Four  and Bathurst Quay. Of the three locations, Marina Four had the most persistent visual signs of  sewage. Throughout the years of 2016 - 2017, there was no weeks where there wasn’t some  signs of sewage at this location. There is a combined sewer outfall at the northeast corner. There  were occasions where active flows of discharge were observed near this outfall.    The following table breaks down historical sampling results by date, with the corresponding  amount of rainfall within 24 hours.      4
  5. 5. Figure 2.​ Past Inner Harbour water quality monitoring results under similar climate and observed  environmental conditions.      Results: ​E. coli ​per 100/mL of water  (Geomean of at least 5 samples)  Date  Rainfall   (Past 24 Hours)  MARINA FOUR  REES ST. SLIP  BATHURST QUAY  Aug 8, 2018  69.7 mm  > 24,196.0 ​*  790.2  13,488.8  Jul 23, 2018  15.4 mm  1959.4  631.8  10,407.5  Jul 17, 2018  8.0 mm  1334.8  181.1  > 24,196.0 *  Jun 28, 2018  7.8 mm  2326.0  122.0  7,611.2  Jul 21, 2017  16.0 mm  4357.8  1905.5  6742.1  May 26, 2017  44.6 mm  > 2419.6 *  22.6  > 2419.6 *  Aug 17, 2016  12.2 mm  791.3  861.0  7007.4  * “Maxed out” samples - Maximum possible ​E. coli​ test value with dilution factor used.   Summary of Recommendations   1. Beginning immediately and continuing for the next 72 hours, the City of Toronto should  issue public advisories about surface water quality. Given the significance of this spill, the  existing generic 48-hour rainfall advisory is not sufficient to inform the public about the  issue. The advisory should include details about what to look for to identify sewage  pollution, specific risks and hazards, and clearly indicate that raw sewage may be present  in the water so that the public is fully informed.     2. The City of Toronto should make immediate arrangements for cleanup crews to remove  floating sewage debris in the Harbour in order to protect public health, environmental  quality, and aesthetics.    3. The City of Toronto should test Harbour water quality daily until water quality returns to  acceptable levels.     Thank you for your attention.   Mark Mattson  President & Waterkeeper    5
  6. 6. Appendix 1   Site Map: Marina Four    Figure 3a. ​Water testing sites at the Marina Four location.      Marina Four  Water Quality Summary       Figure 3b. ​Summary of 2017 and 2018 (to date) water quality results at Marina Four.  6
  7. 7.   Appendix 2 Site Map: Rees Street Slip                        Figure 4a. ​Water testing sites at the Rees Street Slip / Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre  location.  Rees Street Slip  Water Quality Summary    Figure 4b. ​Summary of 2017 and 2018 (to date) water quality results at the Rees Street Slip.  7
  8. 8. Appendix 3 Site Map: Bathurst Quay                                      Figure 5a. ​Water testing sites at the Bathurst Quay location.      Bathurst Quay  Water Quality Summary    Figure 5b. ​Summary of 2017 and 2018 (to date) water quality results at Bathurst Quay.  8
  9. 9. Appendix 4   Field Observations: Marina Four - Aug 8, 2018  Marina Four:​ Green-brown colour of water, turbid appearance, strong sewage odour, surface  scum and sheen, large amount of garbage and sewage debris - including condoms, tampons,  tampon applicators, sanitary napkins. Appearance of disintegrated toilet paper throughout.    Photos: Marina Four - Aug 8, 2018    9
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  15. 15. Appendix 5   Field Observations: Rees Street Slip - Aug 8, 2018  Rees Street Slip / Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak: ​Light green colour of water, cloudy  appearance, large amount of visible garbage and sewage debris - including condoms, tampons,  tampon applicators, and sanitary napkins. Deceased animals observed on water surface including  fish (carp) and waterfowl.    Photos: Rees Street Slip - Aug 8, 2018    15
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  17. 17. Appendix 6   Field Observations: Bathurst Quay - Aug 8, 2018    Bathurst Quay: ​Grey-brown colour of water, turbid appearance, strong sewage odour, surface  scum and sheen, significant amount of sewage debris and garbage - including condoms,  tampons, tampon applicators, and sanitary napkins.      Photos: Bathurst Quay - Aug 8, 2018          17
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