Millions of disks, tons of raw sewage spilled from Hooksett plant

Union Leader Correspondent
Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2011

HOOKSETT – The number of small, plastic disks that escaped from the Hooksett Wastewater Treatment Plant is much higher than previously thought, according to local and state officials.

Between 4 million and 8 million disks spilled out of an overflowing tank, along with about 300,000 gallons of raw sewage, and into the Merrimack River on March 6.

It was originally thought the number of escaped disks was in the hundreds of thousands.

Officials did not realize the severity of the problem until five days after the spill when disks were discovered along the Merrimack River shoreline between Hooksett and Newburyport, Mass., where some beaches were closed.

The state Department of Environmental Services said the disks do not pose a health risk and the vast majority of disks did not test positive for harmful bacteria.

The disks, officially known as Biolfilm Chip M Media, are not much larger than the size of a quarter. They were introduced to the plant last November in a ceremony that included Gov. John Lynch and touted as a new sewage treatment method that reduced the number of aeration tanks that needed to be built, saving the town $1 million.

Hooksett is potentially facing a penalty of $25,000 per violation, per day, according to Assistant Attorney General Allen Brooks, chief of the Attorney General Office's Environmental Protection Bureau.

State and local officials confirmed the Hooksett plant had not installed an alarm system on the sewage tanks that would have alerted workers to an overflow until the day after the spill.Investigators are still determining if a fine will be issued.

“Everything they did will be considered,” Brooks said.

DES is trying to recruit volunteers to help clean up the disks along beaches in New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts.