Monday, May 02, 2005

Perhaps They Thought Twice

Thinking about the big sewage spill in New Haven over the weekend, I was reminded of sewage spills on Long Island Sound back in 1987.

In 1987, dissolved oxygen levels in the western half of Long Island Sound dropped to zero so quickly in late July and early August, that fish and lobsters and crabs died throughout the region. The next summer conditions were almost as bad but dissolved oxygen never reached zero. The western half of the Sound was virtually lifeless, but no fish kills were recorded.

What was the difference?

In 1987, a couple of large sewage spills had preceded the dissolved oxygen drop. Back then, Barbara Welsh, a scientist at the University of Connecticut, speculated that part of the difference was luck, part of it was that the people who worked at the sewage treatment plants behaved more responsibly in '88 then in '87.

In 1988, "There were no sewage spills, so the line between a stressed environment and an environmental disaster was never crossed. Or perhaps, she speculated, the outrage and worry of 1987 -- the headlines and broadcast reports and talk that the Sound was dying -- had struck the people who run the sewage treatment plants with a greater sense of responsibility. Perhaps they thought twice before opening the bypass valves to let raw sewage thunder into the Sound's waters."


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