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Nuts & Bolts

July 9, 2013

Sewage-contaminated splash pad prompts illness complaints

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Health department officials in a Lake Michigan county received about a dozen calls reporting illnesses consistent with exposure to raw sewage after children played in a public park’s contaminated splash pad.

Reports of gastrointestinal illnesses and one rash complaint came from people who played in the water at Clinch Park in Traverse City, Mich., on June 29 and June 30.

City workers discovered June 30 at mid-morning that sewage backed up when a pump station failed and pushed raw sewage into an underground reservoir that feeds sprinklers for the splash pad, rain arc, and mister.

"We can't absolutely positively say they were caused by the splash pad, but all had symptoms consistent with exposure to raw sewage," said Rose Ann Davis, spokeswoman for the Grand Traverse County’s health department.

Symptoms that could indicate exposure to raw sewage include rash, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, infections in open wounds, and jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin which may indicated damage to the liver, health department officials said.

None of those who reported illness after using the splash pad required hospitalization, but the health department instructed people to keep a close eye on those who fell ill. Some of the illnesses that can develop from exposure to raw sewage may take up to two weeks to incubate.

"It's raw sewage, it ... can contain all sorts of things," Davis said.

Nicole Miller of Buckley said she believes splash pad contamination problems began before June 29. Her eight-year-old son began vomiting after he played in the splash pad for about three hours on June 27.

"I'm certain it was the splash pad," Miller said. "He was violently ill for six and a half hours, and we reported it to the health department the next day."

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