SWAMPSCOTT — Town officials are warning the public to stay away from King’s Beach after weekend storms poured 1.15 million gallons of sewage into the water.
Swampscott residents received an automated call from Public Health Director Jeff Vaughan Sunday morning, warning them that overflows from Lynn’s combined sewer system discharged into the surface waters of King’s Beach and Nahant Bay between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday night.
“The overflow consists, or likely consists, of untreated or partially treated sewage and waste,” Vaughan said. “Avoid contact with these waters for 48 hours after the discharge or overflow ceases due to increased health risks from bacteria and other pollutants.”
Department of Conservation and Recreation workers walked along the coast’s sidewalks Monday morning, hanging caution tape in front of all beach entrances. Andrea Amour, a Swampscott resident and member of the Save King’s Beach advocacy group, said the expediency with which the town warned residents demonstrated a newfound sense of transparency among officials.
“That [caution tape], I think, was the strongest display of protecting public safety or public health that I have seen since all of this began,” Amour said. “It definitely gave me a lot of hope.”
Roughly 250,000 gallons of combined sewer overflow discharged into the beach last weekend, according to data collected from the Department of Public Health. Amour said when the public was not notified of last week’s discharge, Save King’s Beach member Wayne Spritz wrote to the Select Board requesting heightened transparency.
On Monday, the DPH launched its Interactive Beach Water Quality Dashboard, which shows data on the department’s daily water-quality tests across the Commonwealth. Data from King’s Beach showed that since June 24, the beach’s water has been contaminated with bacteria roughly 200 times greater than the level deemed safe for swimming on 10 different days.
“When something isn’t visible, people don’t know there’s a problem. Sewage, to that effect, is sort of invisible. When it pours into the beach, it continues to be an invisible problem. People don’t realize that there is actually a problem there. But when they put up yellow caution tape, people stopped and they read the signs for the first time,” Amour said.
The calls came only weeks after the Swampscott Select Board held a lengthy discussion updating community members on Lynn and Swampscott’s efforts to clean King’s Beach, with options ranging from construction of a 4,500-foot outpour extension pipe to filter out waste, to building a light-treatment plant to zap the water with UV rays.
Some of the members who attended the July 19 meeting expressed their frustrations with both the pace of the clean-up efforts and a perceived lack of public awareness on beach closings.
State Rep. Jenny Armini, whose district includes Swampscott and part of Lynn, commented that officials were balancing cost-efficiency and timing as prioritized factors in re-opening the beach.
“The priority is opening the beach for this generation, not the next one,” Armini said.