People’s carelessness about what they flush down the toilet or dump down their drain is being blamed for causing a sewage backup that closed three blocks of Ocean City beaches to swimming Monday.
The closings were the third in as many weeks on the island. This time a sewage backup Sunday on First Street resulted in a precautionary closing since the waste may have been washed into a nearby stormdrain.
County health officials took water samples Sunday and Monday and expect to have results available this morning, at which point they will reopen the beaches if the tests show that any contamination has dissipated.
The state Department of Environmental Protection blamed last week’s backup, which closed beachesonEighth, Ninth and 10th streets, on a grease blockage in the sewer line serving the Strand Theater. The sewage overflowed into a stormdrain that discharges into the ocean.
Stenton Place’s beach was closed the week before because of a suspected leak, although none was found.
On Monday, Ocean City Director of Community Services Jim Mallon said people putting paper towels in toilets, sand in shower drains and kitchen grease in sinks are likely culprits for Sunday’s backup.
"It could be people doing things a little differently than they would at home because they are on vacation,” said Mallon. “I think it’s a little bit of bad luck for us.”
Thomas said there usually are about two or three beach closings a summer in the county. Ocean City is the only shore town in the county with any closings this summer, he said.
“It usually happens about two or three times a summer,” he said, then jokingly added, “so we should be done with it now, right?”
Thomas said his department inspectors have handed out educational materials in Ocean City and elsewhere to keep food businesses from dumping grease down drains instead of into containers to be taken away. He said that is a common cause of blockages when it builds up in sewage pipes.
The tests performed Sunday and Monday were done for enterococcus, a bacteria found in human intestines that can cause urinary tract infections, diverticulitis and meningitis. Concentrations have to be below a certain level to legally allow bathing, and the tests take 24 hours.
“While beach closings in Ocean City are historically rare, these two closings were simply preventative measures from isolated events that are being looked at by the county Health Department, the city and the DEP’s Southern Bureau of Water Compliance and Enforcement,” DEP spokesman Bob Considine said.