Allegheny River Overflow's Effect on Water Quality at Issue in
6 August 2014
By Aaron Aupperlee
Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and triathlon officials met
on Wednesday to discuss concern and confusion over the water
quality of the Allegheny River when swimmers jumped in for the
latest race on Sunday.
John Stephen, founder of Friends of the River Front, which
organizes the Pittsburgh Triathlon, said race officials met before
the start of the swim leg to discuss water quality. Some
participants had concerns about the health risks of the water.
Organizers are considering changes for next year's event to better
and more clearly inform participants of water quality issues,
A heavy rainstorm swept through the area on Saturday night,
prompting the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, which treats
wastewater, to issue a sewage overflow alert. Alcosan officials
notified Stephen at 6:15 a.m. Sunday that there were no overflows,
he said. The swimming leg started at 6:45 a.m.
“Clearly on Sunday morning, the issue was on everyone's mind. It
was tense,” Stephen said. “The real go/no-go decision point was
when Alcosan contacted me, as they promised they'd do, that when
they inspected outflows upstream, there were no overflows.”
Neil Semmel, the race director from Piranha Sports, a Kirkwood,
Del., company hired by Friends of the Riverfront to handle race
day operations, declined to comment on issues regarding water
quality and said to direct questions to Friends of the Riverfront
because it determined to go ahead with the swim.
Water quality studies have detected high levels of bromides, which
can cause cancer, in the river, along with pollutants such as acid
mine drainage, chemical fertilizers and road salt. Alcosan warns
that wastewater overflows can wash storm debris and raw sewage
into the water. Bacteria can make people sick if water is
swallowed or comes into contact with an open wound, according to
the authority's website. Water quality usually does not return to
normal for 48 hours after an overflow.
Triathlon organizers changed their water quality policy this year
after two years of complaints that Allegheny River water had made
participants ill. The triathlon partnered with Platypus LLC, a
Squirrel Hill company, and with PWSA to collect water samples
before the race and analyze the samples, said Melissa Rubin, an
Samples were collected months before the triathlon and after
storms to study how heavy rain affects water quality.
Alcosan performed extra inspections before the race of the
wastewater outflows, where combined sewage and stormwater dump
into the Allegheny River when the authority's treatment plant is
overloaded, said Jeanne Clark, authority spokeswoman.
“There were several precautions in place to try to inform and
protect the participants and inform them,” Rubin said. “Friends of
the Riverfront gave them as much information as they could to make
an informed decision.”
Both Rubin and Stephen stressed it is never 100 percent safe to
swim in the river.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 412-320-7986 or email@example.com. Staff writer
Karen Price contributed to this report.
Read more: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/6570252-74/triathlon-quality-river#ixzz39gdznEjZ