NORTH ANDOVER — An exchange of e-mails between state environmental officials and the operators of the region’s sewage plant suggests the operators were ill-prepared for the overflows at three treatment tanks that began July 1 and continued yesterday, even though the overflows occurred several times before.
Two of the plant’s 40-year-old portable pumps that would have been used to suck up the noxious mix of human industrial wastes broke down at the start of the clean-up, the emails disclose. There was a shortage of hoses, although that may not have mattered with too few working pumps. The two-foot concrete containment barriers that were installed around the tanks during earlier overflows were unevenly spaced and too short, allowing partially treated sewage to push under and around them — and sometimes over their tops — and to spill across a service road and into an adjoining wetland.
The e-mails add to the impression of the cleanup during several visits by The Eagle-Tribune during the week of July 8, when the battle to contain the sludge was being waged by crews armed with little more than garden hoses and squeegees and wearing little or no protective gear or clothing. A vacuum truck capable of holding 2,500 gallons stood by.
Last week, the state Department of Environmental Protection said the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District “violated, and continues to violate” the state Clean Waters Act “by allowing the discharge of partially treated sanitary sewerage to ground waters of the Commonwealth without a valid permit.”
The charge, contained in a “Unilateral Administrative Order” dated July 16, also directed the sanitary district to “take any and all actions” to contain the overflows within the concrete barriers and to cleanup the sewage that pushed past the barriers by July 19.
The order, signed by Eric Worrall, the acting director of the DEP’s Northeast Regional Office, also ordered the district to spread lime on the grassy areas surrounding the 40-foot treatment tanks (15 feet are underground) and to provide the DEP with daily updates on the cleanup.