Public Health

Published on March 3rd, 2016 |


Fulton health department starts checking into Memorial Park hazards

The Fulton County Environmental Health Division sent a two-person inspection team to the children’s play area of south Buckhead’s Atlanta Memorial Park March 2 and reported finding “two areas with standing water that had the smell of raw sewage.”

This is one of the photos taken March 2 in Memorial Park by the team of Fulton County health inspectors. The found puddles of water that had the smell of sewage in the playground area.

One of the photos taken March 2 in Memorial Park by the team of Fulton County health inspectors. The found puddles of water that smelled of sewage in the playground area.

This report, which comes many weeks after the last major Peachtree Creek flooding incident on Dec. 24, was in response to County Commissioner Lee Morris’ inquiry into the county’s role when there are situations of flooding, sewage overflows, etc., in Memorial Park.

Commissioner Morris had been requested by BuckheadView to ask the County’s Department of Health and Wellness if it did not have a responsibility and jurisdiction to examine the potential public health hazard as a result of the Memorial Park flooding and sewage spill issues that have been going on for decades.

Fulton County COO Todd Long and Interim Director of Health Services David A. Sarnow have both reported back to Morris and have indicated the county clearly has a responsibility in this situation. Public health issues are the county’s responsibility, not the city of Atlanta’s.

A March 2 memo from Long to Commissioner Lee Morris included photographs and a comment that the report from the two inspectors also indicated “there were also several areas where what looked like ‘salt’ (also referred to as lime) had been placed down.”

Long’s report to Morris stated: “The inspectors felt the (public health) concern could be valid based on the smells. Formal reporting will be accomplished in the Environmental DHD system. Remaining lime on the ground after the recent rains would indicate recent treatment or re-treatment.”

In a Feb. 24 memo to Long, Sarnow pointed out that the Fulton County Code of Ordinances and Resolutions states: “The health department shall make

Here is the second photo taken by the Fulton health inspection team March 2 which was attached to Fulton COO Long's report to Commissioner Lee Morris.

The second photo taken by the Fulton health inspection team March 2 and attached to Fulton COO Long’s report to Commissioner Lee Morris.

or authorize any inspections and investigations it deems necessary to enforce the regulations of the board of health to protect public health.”

It also states: “The health department may take and examine reasonable samples of any substances suspected of creating a nuisance or menace to the public health or of failing to comply with regulations.”

Nuisance in the Fulton ordinances is defined as: “Whatever is dangerous or detrimental to human life or health and whatever renders or tends to render soil, water or food impure or unwholesome.”

The Fulton ordinance specifically deals with sewage discharges as well, stating: “No sewage shall be discharged onto the ground surface, into any watercourse, impoundment, storm sewer or public thoroughfare.”

Sarnow’s memo to Long also offered three recommendations for county actions:
1. “Determine the current status of the flooding at Memorial Park and potential associated public health hazards.” He said his department would contact the city of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “to determine current status and any recent findings to make further recommendations and/or course of action.”
2. “Seek verification of current applicability and enforcement powers from the County Attorney.” The reason given is past inconsistencies related to what public health issues to enforce due to an ambiguity of the nuisance code.
3. “Review the Fulton County Code for potential revision of the term nuisances.” His department will review the code and “draft a recommendation for applying and/or revising the code for the

Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris, who represents most of Buckhead.

Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris, who represents most of Buckhead.

protection of public health.”

Long, in his March 2 memo to Morris, wrote, “As a follow-up to our discussion today, both David Sarnow and Kun Suwanarpa have found further information regarding the situation at Memorial Park.”

Long wrote that if the county’s Division of Environmental Health is notified (usually through a citizen complaint) of a nuisance, “we are authorized to investigate. We can travel to the site and see what the situation is. We can evaluate any actual public health hazard, but regardless, we can then work with the appropriate department for remediation.”

Long wrote that on March 2, “the city of Atlanta stated to our staff that they had already completed the below actions (spreading disinfectant lime) with respect to Memorial Park, though we don’t know when these actions were undertaken.”

Long wrote there is reason to believe this action may have been very recent because of the photos taken by the two-man inspection team. “These procedures should be sufficient for minimizing any threat to public health,” Long wrote.

Long also noted that the city of Atlanta also stated to staff, “there is consideration underway for possible changes to the actual sewage infrastructure, but this is obviously a longer term project.”

Long also noted that “according to conversations today, the city of Atlanta Watershed Management’s remediation procedures for creek overflow (or spillage)” and the “COA process cleanup of a park” is as follows:
1. Close the park (tape around the area)
2. Post spill signs
3. Send out the Spill Response Team (Watershed Management employees) to: a) Remove trash, b) Apply lime, c) Restore park, d) Clean any playground equipment.

The playground area of Atlanta Memorial Park taped off after it was contaminated with sewage during an earlier flood incident.

The playground area of Atlanta Memorial Park taped off after it was contaminated with sewage during an earlier flood incident.

4. Test the stream only for fecal contamination (they do not test the equipment).

Long said in his view, FCDHW has no direct authority in policy or code to enforce against a municipal entity. “We can only provide data for inter-governmental conversation.”

BuckheadView shared the information in the two Fulton County memos with Robert Schreiber, one of our consultants on sewer issues and the Atlanta CSO Consent Decree, who has been closely

monitoring compliance issues on both for more than a decade. Here are a few of his thoughts:
1) FCHDW should be testing any structure with which there is human contact, ex., playground equipment, park benches, etc.

2) Fecal is only an “indicator” pollutant. A broader spectrum of pollutants (viruses, bacteria, chemicals) and the degree of toxicity needs to be assessed.

Furthermore, Schreiber noted from the CSO Consent Decree document: “Fulton County, Georgia is also a party to this consolidated action. On February 2, 1996, Fulton County, Georgia filed a motion to intervene in Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Fund. Inc., et al, v, the City of Atlanta, 1:95-CV-2550-FMH.

“On May 16, 1996, the Court denied the motion as to the liability portion of the litigation, but found that Fulton County had a legally protectable interest in the remedial portion of the litigation not

Robert Schreiber

Robert Schreiber

adequately protected by the Defendant, and allowed Fulton County to intervene in the remedial portion of the litigation.

“Fulton County has, therefore, participated in the negotiations regarding the terms and conditions of this Consent Decree. Fulton County is not, however, a signatory to this Consent Decree, nor does it possess any enforcement authority under this Consent Decree, or bear any responsibilities or obligations under this Consent Decree.”

Schreiber’s position on this is that “enforcement in the CSO-CD applies only to enforcement of the Clean Water Act and Georgia law regarding discharges which originate from Atlanta’s CSO sewer system.”

Schreiber told BuckheadView: “FCDHW has no enforcement authority over ‘what comes out of the CSO system. FCDHW does have enforcement authority over the consequences of what comes out of the CSO system.”

If Schreiber is correct, then it would seem that sewage or fecal matter polluting or long-term contaminating properties (the consequences of what comes out of the CSO system), both private residential and public lands (such as Atlanta Memorial Park) is enforceable by FCDHW if it is determined to be a health hazard.

Schreiber further told BuckheadView: “Whether the sole source of sewage (and other contaminants) originates from Atlanta’s sewer systems or from other sources, in the interest of protecting public health, closing the Memorial Park children’s playground should be considered, as well as other portions of the park where there is direct human contact with structures (park benches, etc.) and probably portions of Bobby Jones Golf course (picking up a golf ball from contaminated grass) until the toxicity of pollutants, the sources of contamination have been identified, and a solution which assures protection of public health has been successfully implemented.”

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