Residents urged to avoid contact with Merrimack after sewage spill |

NEWBURYPORT — People and their pets have been urged to avoid contact with the Merrimack River until at least Thursday after several combined sewage overflows upstream. But at least one Newburyport business owner isn’t too happy with the announcement.

Newburyport, Amesbury and West Newbury Health Services issued public health warnings on Tuesday morning due to early morning sewer overflows in Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell. The spills came as storms blanketed the area in heavy rain overnight.

According to the Newburyport Health Department, the combined sewer overflows occurred in Haverhill at 12:30 a.m., Lowell at 1:10 a.m. and Lawrence at 1:50 a.m.

Municipalities have recommended that the public avoid contact with the Merrimack River for 48 hours due to increased health risk from bacteria and other pollutants associated with urban stormwater runoff, as well as discharges of untreated sewage or partially processed.

“The water is coming in so fast it’s raising bacteria levels. Assuming there won’t be another heavy rain like there was last night, it will calm down again and the water will be safe then,” said Laura, director of public health for Newburyport. Vlasuk said.

In Newburyport, temporary warning signs have been posted along public access points to the Merrimack River, including the Harbor Master’s Building, Moseley Woods, Joppa Flats, Cashman Park and Plum Island.

Vlasuk added that the city will continue to perform its weekly water tests to ensure bacteria levels are correct before removing warning signs.

“We will test again before the end of this 48 hour period to make sure the bacteria levels have gone down and the water is safe,” she said.

Tuesday marked the first time Newburyport had to ban water this summer, according to Vlasuk who said residents can monitor the town’s Facebook page at:, or the website of the city at the address: https://www., for further updates.

“We had a very dry summer so we were very lucky because it hasn’t happened yet because there hasn’t been a flash flood,” she said.

Despite the advisory, Ken Taylor of Plum Island Kayak on Merrimac Street, said he was not as concerned about the combined sewage overflows as he was about the public response to them.

“This is going to have a huge negative impact on my business just because of what the health department says. They put up these big giant signs telling no one to go in the water. We’re not going in the water. We put people in a boat and put them in the water,” Taylor said.

The signs, he added, leave a lasting impression of the Merrimack that resonates well past the 48 hours.

“The sign may say ‘do not enter water for 48 hours’ but people don’t see it.” They came down here three, four weeks later, shouting ‘there’s sewage in this water!’” he said.

Taylor, who has been in business for 20 years, said he and his employees were aware of the combined sewage overflows, but would operate their business as usual and just stay out of the water.

“We are not going swimming and we are not going in the water, even though the river is getting cleaner and much better than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. We we’ve been doing this for 20 years. and my guys have never had itchy eyes or rashes or anything. If anybody’s gonna have anything, it’s gonna be us,” he said. We know something might be in the river, so we stay out. So I don’t think they need to yell and yell red alerts.”

Comments are closed.