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AKRON, Ohio -- The Cuyahoga River between Akron and
Cleveland is polluted with viruses from wastewater that can cause
serious diseases, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The main source of these pathogens is Akron's combined sewer
system, which dumps nearly 3 billion gallons of runoff contaminated
with human waste into the river each year, said Rebecca Bushon and
Donna Myers, of the agency's Columbus office.
Like the sewer systems in many older cities, Akron has a system
that combines stormwater with household waste. The systems frequently
overflow during major storms.
Experts have known for a long time that combined sewers and, to a
lesser degree, stormwater runoff can trigger high E. coli bacteria
counts in the river for 2 to 3 days after heavy rains.
But a preliminary study has found viruses as well as
disease-causing bacteria in many samples of the river water.
``It's a serious risk,'' Myers said.
A statement released by the agency said, ``We have determined that
infectious enteroviruses are present in 56 percent of the samples
analyzed in calendar year 2000.''
Such enteroviruses can cause a number of serious illnesses,
including hepatitis A, polio, gastroenteritis, myocarditis and
Mayor Don Plusquellic said Akron simply does not have the money to
fix the problem without assistance from the federal government.
``I have been to Washington more times than I can count to get
financial assistance to help us with this,'' Plusquellic said.
``Without assistance, we would have to triple our sewer rates to our
citizens. The cost has to be defrayed.''
Plusquellic said that repairing the city's sewers is expected to
cost about $350 million.
Those most at risk from the pathogens in the Cuyahoga River are
anglers, boaters and swimmers. The river is not used for drinking
Dr. Steven Gordon, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist
at the Cleveland Clinic, said assessing the risk to individuals along
the Cuyahoga is ``almost impossible to do.''
Boaters are probably at greater risk from drinking alcohol or not
wearing life jackets than from contracting a waterborne disease, he
The U.S. Geological Survey has been looking at bacteria levels in
the river in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for years in an effort
to determine whether the park can safely gauge when the water quality
is safe for canoeing and swimming.
Recreational use of the river is not recommended because park
officials can't predict when bacteria levels are low enough for safe
use, said Brian McHugh, the park's chief ranger.
Bushon and Myers said eliminating 90 percent of Akron's combined
sewers would make the river safer for recreational uses.
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