A wastewater overflow of approximately 27,400 gallons from Burlington’s sanitary collection system went into Bowden Branch, a tributary of Little Alamance Creek. It was the second large-scale Burlington wastewater spill in less than five days.
Large amounts of yarn wrapped around a piece of wood in a pipe located at 833 Queen Ann St. caused the blockage and subsequent spillage at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, according to Rachel Kelly, Burlington’s public information officer. The spillage ended at 8:35 a.m.
“The sewer pipe was in an area where several industries are located, including one that works with yarn,” Kelly said.
The overflowing wastewater flowed into a storm drain connected to Bowden Branch, approximately 15 minutes away from Elon University’s main campus.
Kelly said the only known effect of the overflow was the death of several fish in the creek.
“That’s the result of the water coming in having a higher temperature than the creek water,” she said. “Burlington is still waiting to get more test results back about it.”
According to Michael Kingston, a professor of biology at Elon, bacteria from the waste also has an adverse effect on the fish.
“Whenever you release waste into these streams, the bacteria go crazy,” he said. “They’ll consume all the oxygen in the water and there’s nothing left for the fish. The fish die because of that.”
Yarn has never been an issue with an overflow, according to Michael Layne, Burlington’s stormwater manager.
“We’re definitely going to follow up with the yarn industry here,” Layne said. “But this is probably an isolated incident.”
On April 18, about 20,000 gallons of wastewater flowed into Servis Creek, also located in Burlington, because of a grease buildup.
In January, 3.5 million gallons of sewage spilled into Haw River in a span of two days after a line broke at a Burlington treatment plant.
Kingston said wastewater spillage has been an issue in the past for North Carolina due to hog lagoons, areas where pig waste is stored.
“About 20 years ago, we used to have all of these lagoons, and sometimes waste would get into the streams when the dams wouldn’t hold,” he said. “The ammonia from the waste is toxic, and that produces a lot of dead fish.”
Kelly said Burlington cleans 20 percent of its sewer lines each year, more than the 10 percent required by the state of North Carolina.
“We’re making an education campaign for our residents about not throwing grease down the drain,” Kelly said. “That will make overflows less of a possibility.”