Family unaware of pollution concern before eating caplin

Rebekah Ward
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Fish were rolling on Torbay beach

A sign in front of Torbay Beach advises visitors to enjoy it at their own risk, but doesn’t mention the presence of a nearby sewer outfall. — Submitted photo

After a beautiful day catching and eating caplin at Torbay Beach with her husband and two small sons, Kelley Bromley-Brits learned from a friend that the town’s sewage was being pumped a couple of hundred feet from the beach.

“Around midnight I was talking to my friend about all the fish we caught, and she asked me where I had caught them,” Bromley-Brits said, referring to the family’s Sunday outing.

“I told her Torbay Beach and she said there was raw sewage pumped in there, and that she wouldn't eat them. ... I got such a horrible, sinking feeling. We'd all been in that water and eaten the fish; my toddler had eaten three all by himself. I felt terrible, like I had put my family in danger. I thought maybe I had missed a sign.”

Bromley-Brits called HealthLine, the provincial toll-free service offering 24-hour telephone access to registered nurses.

When she explained  the family had eaten caplin caught 200 feet from a sewage outflow, she said she was advised to watch for

E. coli infections and to look into preemptive vaccinations the next day.

“The next morning, instead of enjoying the Discovery Day holiday, we all went to the doctor, who thankfully squeezed us in,” Bromley-Brits said.

“It was recommended that we all get hepatitis vaccinations. I had had the vaccine before so I only had to have my titres checked, but my husband and two sons were advised to get the Twinrix vaccine. They all need three doses: one that day, one a month from now, and one six months from now. It's going to cost us $411, assuming I don’t need a booster shot.”

According to Health Canada, titres refer to the concentration level of antibodies, in this case those that protect against Hepatitis B.

This young mother was not the only one out of the know. A local Torbay wildlife photographer, who asked to have his name withheld, noted that caplin were rolling on the beach throughout the weekend, a rare event that found the shoreline more populated than usual.

“(People) were catching caplin, like there wasn’t anything wrong with the water. I think it was about two dozen people over the course of the day. There were dogs playing in the surf, and just general caplin-related activity,” the photographer said.

He also noted that the signage at the beach has recently changed; where the sign used to specify the presence of pollution, it currently reads simply “Public Notice: Enjoy our beach at your own risk.”

“The new sign led me to believe that (the beach’s pollution problem) was fixed,” the photographer said.

A few years ago, a crack in the sewer outfall had necessitated a cleanup and repair job, at which time Torbay Beach had signs which clearly indicated the sewage-related contamination. Now, though pollution has lowered to levels similar to those pre-break, according to the Town of Torbay, the sewage dumping system has not been changed.

“It’s still a sewer line 200 feet offshore, and there’s some concern that all is not well,” Torbay Mayor Robert Codner said.

This concern over contamination is relatively recent, though the sewage disposal system is not.

When the pipe was initially installed, “the norm was that sewage was getting dumped into the ocean, and people at the time, from the authorities that approved it to the towns, didn’t see any problems with it,” Codner said. “But that whole philosophy has changed, and you don’t do it any more. And what’s there now has to be cleaned up within certain time parameters.”

According to Codner, the timeline for wastewater regulation changes is still up in the air for the Town of Torbay.

The date has been on the horizon since federal Environment Minister Peter Kent outlined a national cleanup program in July 2012, and according to that program many similar sewage systems across the country will eventually need to be upgraded, but it is still unclear when the new regulations will hit Torbay.

“It is going to be a very expensive project,” Codner said. “We had a preliminary estimate back a few years ago, and I think it was coming in roughly around the same cost as the arena, so that was $12 million when it was constructed.

“We’re still waiting as to where we sit on the scale, if we’re one of the early ones that’s got to be done or maybe we can be put off until one of the later ones, then we’ve got to get the funding, then it’s design work. So you’re talking at best a few years down the road.”

Until the current sewage disposal system is overhauled, some degree of water pollution is unavoidable as raw sewage will continue to be dumped close to the shore.

Before attention to pollution was at the forefront of public consciousness, Codner said, people used to go down to the beach as if nothing was wrong.

“If I had known about the sewage, I would have waited for the caplin to come in on Middle Cove Beach,” Bromley-Brits said.

Sometimes, however, nature can be deceiving.

“When you’re at (Torbay) Beach the water is very clear and it looks very, very pure, but this may be a case of what you (can’t) see can hurt you,” the Torbay photographer said. “I would be curious to find out if anything was really wrong with the water, or if it’s just our perception.”

Organizations: Health Canada

Geographic location: Torbay

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Recent comments

  • Richard
    July 02, 2013 - 04:18

    Whilst out fishing from Brixham to the skerries, the 'streak' of raw sewage ran the entire length of the coast around 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide. Fish finders are going mad, thinking that there are shoals of fish near the surface, when in fact the concentration of feaces is responsible. This concentration would be too much for gilled animals to deal with and will be affecting our coastline for many years, even if it is stopped today! Remember that raw sewage contains many chemicals as well as waste matter!..

  • Illegal
    June 26, 2013 - 20:11

    Isn't it illegal to dump toxic contaminants of any kind into a pond, lake, river or bay??? (Or at least in most provinces) This is not signage issue, this is an environmental issue and should not be happening, period.

  • Rob
    June 26, 2013 - 15:11

    As a new resident of Torbay I am so sad and embarrassed to hear about this. I only recently found out about this issue as well and have since told family and friends about it (all from the St. John's area) whose common response is, "What? Really?". Issues and media coverage like this are painting ever growing black eye on the town and its growing tourism campaign. The town and its mayor need to be accountable for improper signage and warnings to people using this beach! Not to mention that this beach is a historic site and the town can't even market that due to the sewage issue.

  • Concerned Torbay resident
    June 26, 2013 - 13:40

    Hearing this story makes me very angry, but yet so sad for these people. Residents from Torbay who grew up in this area are aware of the sewage running into the ocean, however Torbay has growth quite a bit over the years and there are many people who are not aware of it. As a parent, I can only imagine how this mother felt and worried especially for her child. Torbay town council has been made aware of this issue by many residents and have been told to address the issue with signs to make people aware. They continue to ignore the situation and I am so sick of hearing Mayor Codner passing the buck all the time back on the government!! It is HIS responsibility to look after the residents of this town and keep them informed, which IS NOT being done. I had to make some people aware of the situation last summer, when I saw them on the beach having a BBQ, and this was when the sewer pipe was broken, so there would have been a lot more waste washing up on the beach. They would not have been there had they known! I am just hoping that we get a clean sweep of our current council in Sept., as we have gotten nothing in the past 4 years with our current council.

  • Whammond
    June 26, 2013 - 13:28

    There should be complete signage that dictates in graphic detail that the sewage pipe is only 200 feet away and that our beach is contaminated. It is irresponsible to put up a sign that you have to question, such as the one that claims enjoy the beach at your own risk. One would take that sign in saying that there is no lifeguard or unexpected under tow or whatever, but with cleanish looking water, it is very decieving to have no signage about the Raw sewage. How many people are going to get sick from this, before the town changes the signage up and makes everyone aware of the dangers of our not so pristine beach.

  • john
    June 26, 2013 - 13:18

    As a retired civil engineer I can assure you that Torbay is not the only community with raw sewage being dumped into the ocean. As far as I know every community that dots the entire conception bay area is doing the same. At a minimum some are 'treating' their sewage first. Would not eat anything coming out of those waters. Torbay needs to go a step further and either post signage as to what is exactly occurring on the beach or gate it off. I applaud your good parenting to follow up medically. The next step I would take is to call my lawyer.