Seanetter Stephen Brezinski in Maine was the first to notify me of the appearance of thousands of small, perforated plastic discs on Seabrook beach in New Hampshire this weekend. After his report, Seanetter Linda McCallum who walks on Plum Island in Massachusetts, and Alicia Lenci, who walks Crane Beach a bit farther south on Massachusetts’ North Shore, both reported that their beaches were closed due to “a potential health risk.” While the discs themselves had not yet appeared as far south as Alicia’s beach, officials there have chosen to err on the side of caution based on the origin of the mysterious objects:
The discs have been traced back to a sewage treatment plant in Hooksett, NH, where heavy rains and melting snow overwhelmed the plant’s discharge systems and caused the small plastic filters to spill into the Merrimack River north of Manchester. Normally, the discs are contained in large tubs where they aid in the digestion of sewage. Not surprisingly then, the discs have tested positive for E. coli and Enterococcus, common bacteria inhabiting the human intestinal tract.
After the release a week ago, the discs traveled south and then east along the course of the Merrimack River, which meets the Atlantic just south of the New Hampshire border. They began appearing on Seabrook beach on Thursday. Officials in Massachusetts have criticized their counterparts in New Hampshire for failing to notify their neighbors downstream about the accidental discharge, and it remains unclear who will ultimately pay for the cleanup of the thousands of discs. It is not known how many of the objects escaped into the river, but plant officials say the facility may have contained 9-10 million in total, and it is unclear what portion of those were released.
In the interim, beachgoers who encounter the discs are warned not to touch the objects without gloves, and to wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the beach.
New Hampshire DES officials are requesting that anyone who finds the discs call them at 603-271-3710, so they can track where they are going. Your SEANET blogger also requests that you notify us if you find them.