New Rochelle Middle School is Source of Raw Sewage Dumping into Long Island Sound, Readings 40 Times EPA Limit

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — After months of disagreement, engineers for the City of New Rochelle and City School District of New Rochelle have concluded, after extensive on-site testing, that Isaac E. Young Middle School is the source of pathogens emptying into Long Island Sound. School officials had initially expressed skepticism that the school was the source of contaminants found in City storm drains after initial testing over the past year.

In the Fall of 2015, City engineers detected elevated levels of fecal matter and Coliform in the Church Street Outfall across the street from Trinity Elementary School. Dye testing in May had initially indicated the source was the middle school but subsequent dye tests were inconclusive.

School officials now believe they have located the source of the contamination — a broken section of pipe under the field in front of the school. An outside contractor is expected to dig up and replace the pipe later this month.

As first reported by Talk of the Sound, City of New Rochelle has been facing potential federal fines of $37,500 a day after tests by city engineers discovered raw sewage flowing from a storm drain that empties into the Titus Mill Pond. The pond is a unique New York State Tidal Wetlands under the protection of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Located at the northeastern end of New Rochelle Harbor, the pond flows into Long Island Sound.

In the most recent testing, conducted jointly by the City and School District, results indicate that upstream water sources are below DEC/EPA Limits whereas a water source below the school is significantly above those limits: almost 40 times the limit for Fecal and 11 times the limit for Coliform.

In New York State, the limits for Fecal matter are 2,000 MPN per 100ml and for Total Coliform 10,000 MPN per 100ml.

The City of New Rochelle and the City School District of New Rochelle, together, took four stormwater samples of the Church Street Outfall & Storm Drain on October 11-13, 2016.

The first three samples are all below the DEC/EPA Limits: the upstream sample from 34 Trinity Place indicates 790 MPN Fecal per 100 ml and 9,200 MPN Coliform per 100 ml. The sample from the Corner Wall of the Baseball Field at Isaac E. Young Middle School parking spot indicates 1,700 MPN for Fecal per 100 ml and 4,000 MPN for Coliform per 100 ml. The sample from Parking Spot No. 40 at 200 Centre Avenue indicates 330 MPN for Fecal per 100 ml and 6,400 MPN for Coliform per 100 ml.

The sample that flows from Isaac E. Young Middle School to the Church Street Outfall is significantly above the DEC/EPA Limits: 79,000 MPN for Fecal per 100 ml and 110,000 MPN for Coliform per 100 ml.

“The drain manhole sample taken from the parking lot of Isaac Young’s School has acceptable levels of coliform but the school connection continues to exceed the standard,” said New Rochelle City Engineer James J. Moran. “This would indicate that the source of the pollution is located between the northern drain manhole and the connection from the school.

“Upstream sampling from Trinity Place confirms this conclusion,” Moran added.

No determination has yet been made as to how long the raw sewage has been entering the wetlands just across the street from Trinity School.

One source familiar Isaac E. Young Middle School says that about 10 years ago, there was an issue at the school where raw sewage was bubbling up from a storm drain located behind home plate on the baseball field. The issue was reported to Aramark, the District’s former facilities management consultant, which hired Mauro Zonzini and his company, Zonzini Pipeline. to make repairs.

A number of city and school district officials, who agreed to speak off-the-record, says they suspect that Zonzini may have failed to make the proper repairs. Talk of the Sound has requested a copy of the invoices and related paperwork for Zonzini work at Isaac E. Young Middle School. Talk of the Sound has previously reported on malfeasance involving Zonzini, his arrest on charges related to impersonating a police officer in Rye, NY, hundreds of thousands of dollars in phony invoices and providing thousands of dollars in free services to NRPD Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll, among many others.

Asked about potential criminal or civil liability, White was unequivocal.

“If we determine that the sewer line was deliberately, or negligently, connected to the municipal storm drain system, we will cooperate with any NYSDEC investigations and take all appropriate action to hold to account those responsible.”

New Rochelle City Engineer James Moran told Talk of the Sound over the summer that the illicit discharge and detection elimination is a requirement of the City’s stormwater pollution prevention permit and a long-standing EPA Administrative Order. The current EPA order is a renewal of a 2010 order that was issued after testing of 6 Long Island Sound city outfalls, including the Church Street outfall.

All EPA and NYSDEC clean water violations carry with them a $37,500 per violation per day fine but there is no fixed deadline to remediate an issue. Fines are often reduced during administrative hearings.

The Clean Water Act as amended in 1972 established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the United States. New York State water quality laws precede the Clean Water Act. The EPA defers to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation due to state law history and more restrictive Water Quality Standards in New York State. Based on which dilutions showed positive for coliform and/or fecal coliform, a table of most probable numbers is used to estimate the coliform content of the sample. The results are reported as most probable number (MPN) of coliform per 100 ml.

Water pollution caused by fecal contamination is a serious problem due to the potential for contracting diseases from disease causing organisms (pathogens). Because the number of different possible pathogens indicated by fecal matter is large, and fecal matter is an indication of whether other pathogenic bacteria are present and that it is a complicated and expensive process to test for all known pathogens, the presence of pathogens is determined with indirect evidence by testing for an “indicator” organism such as coliform bacteria.

Human fecal matter in water is of special concern because it is more likely that human fecal matter, as opposed to animal fecal matter, will transmit disease from human to human.

Water quality testing occurs in many types of water including standing water, drinking water and water outfalls, among others. Within water outfalls, such as a storm water drains, there are four designations: Obvious (there is an illicit discharge that doesn’t even require sample collection for confirmation), Suspect (high severity on one or more physical indicators), Potential (two or more physical indicators), Unlikely (no physical indicators of an illicit discharge).

The three water sources above the school are classified as Unlikely, the one source below the school is classified as Potential.

Coliforms are bacteria that are always present in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and are found in their wastes. They are also found in plant and soil material.

Water Quality Standards and Classifications

The most basic test for bacterial contamination of a water supply is the test for total coliform bacteria. Total coliform counts give a general indication of the sanitary condition of a water supply.

  • Total coliforms include bacteria that are found in the soil, in water that has been influenced by surface water, and in human or animal waste.
  • Fecal coliforms are the group of the total coliforms that are considered to be present specifically in the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals. Because the origins of fecal coliforms are more specific than the origins of the more general total coliform group of bacteria, fecal coliforms are considered a more accurate indication of animal or human waste than the total coliforms.
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the major species in the fecal coliform group. Of the five general groups of bacteria that comprise the total coliforms, only E. coli is generally not found growing and reproducing in the environment. Consequently, E. coli is considered to be the species of coliform bacteria that is the best indicator of fecal pollution and the possible presence of pathogens.

Are Coliform Bacteria Harmful?

Most coliform bacteria do not cause disease. However, some rare strains of E. coli, particularly the strain 0157:H7, can cause serious illness. Recent outbreaks of disease caused by E. coli 0157:H7 have generated much public concern about this organism. E. coli 0157:H7 has been found in cattle, chickens, pigs, and sheep. Most of the reported human cases have been due to eating under cooked hamburger. Cases of E. coli 0157:H7 caused by contaminated drinking water supplies are rare.

Coliform Testing

Testing for bacteria is the only reliable way to know if your water is safe. You cannot tell by the look, taste, or smell of the water if disease-causing organisms are in it. The New York State Department of Health recommends that well owners test their water for coliform bacteria at least once a year. If you have experienced bacteria problems in the past, it is recommended that you test your well more frequently.

EPA Water Quality Standards