Hamilton

Another creek mystery as sewage waste and floating trash clog banks of Red Hill Creek 

The city and province are looking into an increase in used condoms, tampon applicators and other sewage-related trash floating near the Windermere Basin this month — a mass so bad that Environment Hamilton has complained about it seven times.

The city is investigating how it got there, and the ministry expects a report back

Lynda Lukasik of Environment Hamilton says she's complained to the province seven times about an increase in debris near Windermere Basin Park. (Lynda Lukasik/Environment Hamilton)

The city and province are investigating why masses of used condoms, tampon applicators and other sewage-related trash are clogging Red Hill Creek near the Windermere Basin this month — a spill so bad that Environment Hamilton has complained about it seven times.

Lynda Lukasik, Environment Hamilton executive director, says she first noticed the debris on March 31 and reported it to the city. It includes bottle caps, maxi pads and other common debris, but at shoreline-clogging levels. Lukasik says she's even seen "clumpy stuff" that looks like fecal matter.

"This concerns me and I hope it's nothing serious," Lukasik said. "It just worries me that there is so much of it."

Last year, the public learned 24 billion litres of sewage and stormwater had spilled into Chedoke Creek over four years because of a partially opened gate at a combined sewer overflow (CSO) tank. There's no proof yet of a similar mechanical breach, but Lukasik fears another undetected problem.

"That's part of what has compelled me to just keep reporting every time I see it."

The city has cleaned up some of the mess from the banks of Red Hill Creek. Andrew Grice, head of Hamilton Water, says it's also installed a boom, a sausage-shaped floating barrier that helps determine the waste's direction of origin. 

Despite the CSO system meant to hold back sewage and stormwater in storms, heavy rainfalls can lead to overflows from the tanks and the sewage treatment plant. Grice says that hasn't happened lately, but it means condoms, tampons applicators and the like can make it into the water, so people shouldn't be flushing them anyway. The debris Lukasik has reported, he says, isn't even that unusual.

"There's been a lot of wind, and a lot of lake levels are starting to rise again, so we're not exactly sure where this material is coming from," he said. "We've looked at our wastewater plant. We haven't had any overflows there. We haven't seen any evidence of any issues at that point."

Lukasik says the Chedoke Creek spill of the last year is "part of what has compelled me to just keep reporting every time I see it." (Lynda Lukasik/Environment Hamilton)
The city is installing a boom to figure out where the waste is coming from, says Andrew Grice. (Lynda Lukasik/Environment Hamilton)

"The answer may be, and I know this is something people don't like to hear, that a combined system has this material in it and it should not be in our system."

The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks says the city will report back to the ministry about what it finds. 

It will submit "a report outlining their actions and any future actions that may be required to the address the issue," spokesperson Gary Wheeler said in an email.

 "We are working with the city to determine where the sewage is coming from and ensuring that the city takes all necessary steps to address impacts to the natural environment."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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