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North Reykjavík sea pollution due to repairs

21.10.2021 - 12:20
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Untreated sewage from tens of thousands of homes in the capital region will flow into Faxaflói bay for the next three weeks due to pipe repairs. People are asked to avoid sea swimming and beach visits on the northern Reykjavík shore while the repairs are ongoing due to the possible presence of coli bacteria. It is not clear whether the pollution will spread further.

The culprit is a trumpet; a ten-metre-long pipe that weights 1.5 tonnes and connects to another pipe that releases treated sewage four kilometres out to sea. The trumpet has been leaking for some time and it takes time to manufacture and fit a new one. 

“That means that sewage flows into the sea untreated, or only partially treated,” says Ólöf Snæhólm Baldursdóttir, the Veitur information officer. “That is accompanied by these coli bacteria and that will mean pollution will be caused by this.”  

The treatment plant in question receives 1,500 litres of sewage per second, coming from a large section of the capital: around 40,000 homes in Garðabær, Seltjarnarnes, Kópavogur, and western Reykjavík. 

Ólöf says bacteria levels will be regularly monitored and that beaches will be inspected after the repairs finish. 

The lifetime of coli bacteria in seawater changes depending on the season. It is currently eight to nine hours and Ólöf says it is unclear if they can reach any other beaches within that time. “We are going way over recommended levels, that is very clear. We know there will be a lot of pollution on the northern coast of Reykjavík. How it will be elsewhere, we know less about. There is so much that affects that: weather, currents, and more. We ask people not to go in the sea or on the beaches on the northern shore [of Reykjavík],” Ólöf says. 

Is it likely there will be increased pollution at Nauthólsvík [on the southern shore of Reykjavík] where a lot of people swim in the sea? 

“We believe that to be rather unlikely, as these bacteria don’t live long in the sea, but we cannot guarantee it.” 

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