Health advisory issued after wastewater seeps into Santiam

LEBANON, Ore. -- A health advisory was in effect for the Santiam River late last week after wastewater seeped out of a sewage treatment plant in Lebanon.

The area manager at the Lebanon Wastewater Plant said the leak was a human error, and an isolated incident.

The plant handles all the waste made every time you use your garbage disposal or flush the toilet

Area manager Brian Helliwell says 364 days out of the year, this Lebanon wastewater plant operates just perfect.

Last Thursday was that one day out of the year, when some of this sludge seeped into the Santiam River.

"It was kind of a rust, chocolaty brown, which - again - we know is not right," Helliwell said of the waste that spilled. "We're allowed to put a certain water quality into the river that has solids in it, if you would, but nothing like what we have here."

It happened when a worker was trying to start the pump on this clarifier, a tank that separates liquid from solids. Helliwell said that while trying to separate the two, the worker turned the wrong valve and overloaded the clarifier with a bit too much of those solids.

With limited public access to the river from Lebanon to Albany, Helliwell said there may have been some health risk.

The plant issued a 2-day health advisory for the river and administrative leave for the worker.

Water that leaves the plant after treatment is clear and safe to be released into the environment.

Helliwell estimates that around 1,500 pounds of partially-treated solids went into the river.

He says this is the first time it's happened at the plant, and they want to keep it that way.