Partially Treated Wastewater Accidentally Discharged into Pohick Creek

Jan. 20, 2011

Yesterday, Fairfax County’s wastewater treatment plant accidentally discharged 480,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into Little Hogue Run, which feeds into Pohick Creek.

The county is currently conducting tests to determine bacteria levels in the discharged water, and test results will be available in the next day. However, officials believe there is minimal risk to public health because the water had already been treated to remove 99 percent of harmful bacteria, like e-coli. Officials expect that any potential bacteria levels will be below allowable state standards.

As a precaution, the public should avoid swimming or fishing for the next several days in Pohick Creek near the Pohick Bay.

The discharge occurred as work was being done to replace 30-year old pipes. Construction workers accidentally diverted water from these pipes into a storm sewer pipe that flows into Pohick Creek. Immediately upon discovery, the discharged water was stopped, and some of the discharged water was pumped back into the plant.

The discharged water was undergoing the last stage of treatment that focuses on removing phosphorous. Phosphorous is not a hazard to public health, but it is a pollutant that contributes to the Chesapeake Bay’s poor water quality. This nutrient causes an increase in algae growth, reducing oxygen for fish, crabs and other aquatic life.

Tests are being conducted to determine how much phosphorous was released, and results will be available in the next few days. But officials believe that the amount released was below the allowable state maximum.

The Noman M. Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant removes between 99 and 99.5 percent of pollutants from 45 million gallons of wastewater daily, including phosphorous and nitrogen. Federal rules strictly control more than 100 substances that are present in wastewater.

For more information, contact Mike McGrath at the Fairfax County Noman M. Cole Pollution Control Plant at 703-550-9740 x250, TTY 711.

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