Sewage run-off from Dutch Quarter outside the sewage pit in Belvedere, flowing onto the French side.
PHILIPSBURG–Water flowing through trenches from Dutch Quarter to Belvedere, water ending up in Fresh Pond from the trench in front of the hospital in Cay Hill, water flowing from a cistern onto the parking lot of Kim SHA and sea water at Bobby’s marina: all can be qualified as sewage water. This appears from water testing results The Daily Herald received on Thursday.
A Daily Herald reporter took six samples of water at various locations on May 21, 2023, starting at Belvedere, behind Pit 1 near the ball park. The reason for this initiative was the public statement of Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran that, following the near collapse of Pit 3, that “the sewage water from Dutch Quarter does not flow to the French side” and is “not a cross-border issue.”
Behind Pit 1 in Belvedere a large trench is filled with water coming from Mount William Hill in Dutch Quarter, alongside Illidge Road to Belvedere, along the slave wall and then into French territory. From an aerial photo shared by the VROMI Ministry in 2018, at the start of the unfinished Dutch Quarter Sewage project, it is clear from a distinctive green patch where the water is running through French Quarter towards Le Galion.
On request, an environmental expert confirmed to this newspaper that the Dutch and French waterways are connected and that the sewage water unintendedly serves as a fertilizer for the vegetation in the area.
After collecting bottles from the St. Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) Simpson Bay Environmental Laboratory, water was taken from the smelly, grey-brown water stream behind Pit 1. This fenced-in sewage pit marks the end of the sewage line from Dutch Quarter to Belvedere. There is not supposed to be waste-water outside of this sewage pit. However, tests show that the total coliform (T-COLI) – a variety of bacteria, parasites, and viruses – of the water in the rainwater trench behind it is “too numerous to count.”
While contaminated with faecal matter, the biological oxygen demand (BOD) of the run-off from Dutch Quarter in the trench is 67 where 29 is the maximum. BOD is a measure of the amount of oxygen required to remove waste organic matter from water in the process of decomposition by aerobic bacteria.
Considering the connection with trenches on the French side, samples were taken of water from a well in French Quarter. This well water is transported on request to homes on the French and Dutch sides of the island to fill up cisterns for domestic use. Tests showed that the samples contained dangerous levels of enterococci and escherichia coli (E. Coli).
E. coli and enterococci in water are a strong indicator of sewage or animal waste contamination. Sewage and animal waste can contain many types of disease-causing organisms. Consumption may result in severe illness; children under five years of age, those with compromised immune systems and the elderly are particularly susceptible.
E. coli can cause illnesses such as meningitis, septicemia, urinary tract and intestinal infections. A recently discovered strain of E. coli (E. coli 0157:H7) can cause severe disease and may be fatal in small children and the elderly.
While the maximum allowance of enterococci and E. coli bacteria in drinking water is 0/100mL, the well water from French Quarter contained 110/100mL E. coli and 150/100mL enterococci. The total coliform in the sample was indicated as TNTC (too numerous to count). “This water,” said an expert from the SLS Environmental Lab, “is so contaminated that it cannot be treated in a way that it would serve for domestic use.”
A next sample from Dutch Quarter, from a pond on the other side of Illidge Road, behind a fruit stand, also contained unidentifiable total coliform, with a BOD of 50 where 29 is the maximum. This is stagnant water, which poses an additional risk of inhalation of pathogens by persons who come close to the pond.
Residents in the area have been complaining about waste-water running onto the main road for years. Probable direct exposure to pathogenic E. Coli results from hand-to-mouth contact, skin contact, and inhalation of droplets.
While the sewage run-off in Dutch Quarter is a well-known social and environmental problem, the water quality of Fresh Pond in Cay Hill is even worse. Water flowing from the trench that runs alongside Welgelegen Road, past Raoul Illidge Stadium and St. Maarten Medical Center, ends up in the pond. As a result of discharge from different outlets, the water near the roundabout has an unidentifiable total coliform. Its BOD there is at 121, meaning more than four times the limit.
“This puts fish, and all other organisms that are dependent on oxygen at risk,” an expert from the lab said.
SLS Environmental Laboratory applies the European criteria for bathing water. For coliforms this is 200 cfu (colony-forming units). Samples were taken from seawater at Bobby’s Marina and at Buccaneer, which has previously been identified as a location where seawater is contaminated with sewage and grey water from resorts in the area, as stated in reports from Nature Foundation between 2016 and 2019.
The May 21, 2023, sample of seawater taken near Buccaneer contained less than 200cfu of faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml. The water at Bobby’s Marina, on the other hand, contained a total coliform that was too numerous to count.
The sixth sample taken on May 21, 2023, concerned a pool of water at the Kim SHA parking lot, in front of the bathrooms, at one of the entrances to the beach. While beach-goers walked through this water, the results of the tests at SLS laboratory showed that this water contains an unidentifiable total coliform and therefore can be classified as sewage water.
Experts at the Environmental Laboratory concluded that the present results are “cause for grave concern,” and warned that “waste water should not be discharged unless it is treated.” Regular testing is required to confirm that the discharge does not pose a public health risk.
While the tested well water is not suitable for consumption, domestic use and recreational use, it is also not suitable for agriculture and animal husbandry.
In comparison, in 1978 the United States issued stricter “Wastewater Reclamation Criteria”. For example, treated wastewater used for the irrigation of crops intended to be consumed raw must meet the following guideline value: “maximum 2.2 cfu total coliforms per 100 ml”. Irrigation water from pastures intended for dairy cattle must meet the guideline value: “maximum 23 cfu total coliforms per 100 ml”.
Supervision of the quality of well water on the Dutch side is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, Social Development and Labor VSA. When asked about the analysis of well water, SLS Environmental Laboratory could not give an answer. The government-owned laboratory has not received any requests from government for the testing of well water nor waste water in a number of years.