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Friday, October 07, 2011

Raw Sewage Flooding Home Sparks Outrage

By James Lomuscio

Yelling, accusations and an overall breakdown of order characterized much of a Westport Town Hall public hearing Thursday night as more than 100 Saugatuck Shores residents demanded to know why a newly installed sewer system flooded one home with thousands of gallons of raw sewage. Image
Bryan H. Thompson, a Public Works Department official, explains the pressure pump system to the Town Hall meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Public Works Director Stephen Edwards, accompanied by officials from Environment One Corporation, the Niskayuna, N.Y.-based company that installed the pressure sewer system, moderated the meeting, which at times seemed more like a shouting match.

Edwards and Bryan H. Thompson, coordinator of the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WCPA), insisted that it was not the system that failed, but a defective hose clamp at the single home that caused the disaster.

“It was not a system failure; it was a hose clamp,” said Thompson.

For the past several months, homes in Saugatuck Shores have been switching from septic systems to town sewers.

Edwards has set a tentative July 1, 2012 deadline for all to switch over. But he said the date was somewhat flexible and anyone not wanting to hook up could request exemption from the WPCA.

Dan and Stacey Williams, who live at 9 Marine Ave., had switched from septic to the Environment One system at their home on Friday, Aug. 26, two days before Hurricane Irene hit and much of the town lost power.

“The day the power came back on, Tuesday night, it happened,” Dan Williams said. “We had between 6,000 to 9,000 gallons of raw sewage on our first floor. I was in shock. “

“It was surreal,” said Stacey Williams. “l couldn’t believe it kept coming. I kept thinking, ‘When the hell is it all going to stop? This is not all ours.’ ‘It was horrifying.”

Initially the Williamses and their three children stayed at friends’ houses for several weeks, and now they are renting in Westport, they said. Dan Williams said their home’s entire first floor and all the furniture were destroyed, and it will be about five months before they are able to return.

“If it wasn’t us it would have been someone else,” Dan Williams said. “Sooner or later it was going to blow.”

The Williams’s plight and a lack of faith in the system marked most of the evening.

“What happened that night?” yelled Jennifer Seymour, a neighbor of the Williamses. “Everyone in this room has the exact same interest. Image
Jennifer Seymour asked: “Why do you rule out system failure? This is not an inherent risk of living near the water.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” she added, referring to the pipe clamp. “Why do you rule out system failure? This is not an inherent risk of living near the water.”

Edwards had made that comment about waterfront risks at the meeting’s start. He also said that the sewer system was not compromised by the hurricane.

“Every once in a while something is subject to a defect in it, but everything in the system is fine,” said Edwards. “We have 150 others that did not fail.”

Edwards and Thompson both said that all of the hoses would be refitted with redundant valves to make sure that if one fails, the other would prevent a back flow from the system into a home.

“The question is, ‘Why would we believe you now?’ ” yelled one man from the audience. “What is different now?”

“I still feel that the system that was designed was designed appropriately,” Edwards responded, “in light of the fact that the hose clamp failed.”

Several others in the audience shouted out that the system failed due to the power being turned on again at a time when pressure had built up in the pipes. Edwards insisted that the clamp failure was independent of the power outage.

“I’m really horrified by the discussion I’m hearing,” said Helen O’Neill of 29 Cockenoe Drive, who identified herself as a journalist. “I don’t want to be that unfortunate person where the entire system goes into one house. I don’t understand how it can all go into one house.”

Thompson responded that water seeks its own level.

Even though Edwards tried to maintain order, asking each person who wanted to speak to come to the podium, others continued to yell from their seats.

Matthew Mandell, a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) who represents Saugatuck Shores, even ran to the podium and interrupted one man who was speaking.

“Let me speak,” he said silencing the man.

There, Mandell presented a list of the comments and suggestions he had heard, such as: refitting the clamps; making sure that an alarm would sound if the sewage pumps at each home were not working; and whether the town could pump out each home’s pump basin, as is done in Greenwich, in the event of a power outage.

“Who are you?” one man yelled.

“I represent you on the RTM,” Mandell responded. “Let’s get a list, or we’re going to be here all night.” Image
The meeting often times seemed like a shouting match. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

“Instead of representing us here, let us represent ourselves,” said Jon Krim. “Please sit down.”

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff observed much of the meeting from the back but did not speak. “We very much regret what happened and will do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Edwards noted that in Westport, each homeowner owns the pump basins in from of their homes and near the road, whereas in Greenwich, the town owns them and can step in to pump them out.

Toward the end of the meeting, Edwards noted that the two solutions the town and Environment One gleaned would be a redundant valve system and a battery backup for an alarm if a circuit breaker trips.

The alarm would let the homeowner know the system is not pumping and that it should not be used.

“You have a credibility problem with this community,” Krim said at the podium to Environment One officials. “A lot of people are questioning the decisions you made.”

Brian Waghorn, field service engineering manager for Environment One, called what happened in Saugatuck Shores “an anomaly.”

“I sleep well at night because we have 400,000 of these out in the field, and this has never happened before,” he said. “Power outages happen, but this doesn’t. Our hoses are designed and verified to 300 psi, and you will never reach that. What you had was a clamp that did not close all the way.

“This doesn’t happen,” he added. “This is an anomaly. This is the first town meeting I’ve gone to. We feel horrible about what happened.”

A company brochure available outside the auditorium proudly proclaimed: “The systems installed are E/One grinder pump stations and are very reliable and robust. There is not much you need to do and very little that can go wrong.”

It added: “In the event of a power outage, you have approximately 24 hours of storage depending on water usage.”

As they left the meeting, Tom and Betty Lou Cummings, who four months ago switched over from septic to the new pump system, said they were finally glad to be on sewers.

“The system is fine,” said Tom Cummings.

“But we really have compassion for the Williamses,” Betty Lou Cummings chimed in. “I keep thinking what it would be like if that happened to us?”


Posted 10/07/11 at 04:30 AM


Comment Policy

No one can blame the residents for being “scared” after what happened and people were rightly aggitated.

The crux of the issue is now confidence in the system and the “credibility” in the decions to this point. Our engineering staff made tough choices and in good faith. They do a great job for our community. But there was a failure, which E-One has admitted was their fault. The lack of a second check value added to it. But that product at the time was deemed faulty and not installed.

So how do we repair this? Speakers said they wanted a review of the system. I explained the way to do this is with a peer review, a second opinion. Hire an outside consultant to look over the system and have them make recommendations on what needs to be fixed and what tweaks would ensure operational safety,

Mr. Edwards agreed to this and will look to find a firm to perform this review. 

The other aspect is the timing of the end date for manditory installation. It has already been moved to July 1, 2012. Mr. Edwards said that date was flexible and could be September, a year from now. Hopefully we will have answers by then.

What happened to the Williams was horrible and should never happen to another family or neighborhood. I believe we will find the right answers, We all just need to work together to find them.

Matthew Mandell

Posted by Matthew Mandell on October 07, 2011 at 11:57 AM | #

Although I was not able to attend last night’s meeting, it seems clear that one factor here is the restoration of homeowner confidence in the system.  Perhaps if a committee that included neighborhood representation helped to choose the third party conducting the review, it would help to achieve homeowner acceptance of the results of the study, and therefore of the system. 

Judy Starr
RTM District 1

Posted by Judy Starr on October 07, 2011 at 03:10 PM | #

That our town employees would have to sit and be yelled at is ridiculous. They explained the problem, the company accepted responsibility, efforts are being undertaken to triple safe the system and they responded in a civil manner to residents screaming at them. They listened and responded thoughtfully to the concerns and are doing all they can. We are fortunate to have the caliber of people we do at public works. Brian Thompson’s knowledge, of this town and the systems that run it, is beyond impressive.

Posted by Michele Knapp on October 07, 2011 at 03:50 PM | #

Below are copies of emails sent to E-one and the town that have not been answered. As can be seen from the questions there are serious concerns about the design of the system. The town and E-one have taken the position that it is only a faulty check valve that is responsible for the disaster. Until the questions below are answered we cannot afford to believe them!

Hi Brian
Thanks for your quick answer to my note from yesterday. There are some questions that have not been answered, see below. I’d greatly appreciate if you could answer those as well.
Best Regards

From: Waghorn, Brian [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2011 3:06 PM
To: [email protected]
Cc: ‘Simon Fenner’; ‘Steven Bean’; [email protected]; ‘STACEY WILLIAMS’; Thompson, Bryan; [email protected]; Henry, Clark; Erndt, Walter; Stahl, Glenn
Subject: RE: Thank you!

Dr. Hovstadius,

First and foremost, you brought up the Williams family. I have not reached out to them and I am unsure if anyone else has. We are truly sorry for the incident that occurred. It is difficult to imagine the feelings and emotions that they have been put through during this extremely difficult time. Our hearts go out to their family as they work to restore what was damaged. I will also see what other ways we can reach out to them during this time.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] Yes, this poor family deserves all the support they can get! Thanks for understanding.
It would not hurt if the town tried to do the same!

I apologize for not getting this to you earlier. Your questions were relevant and I hope you find the answers satisfactory. I have read your comments and questions below and appreciate your desire to fully understand your system. The better you and the rest of the residents understand the system and how it works, the more satisfied you will be with your system.

Piping/Hydraulic Design
Our design assistant software is used as a check to verify the normal operating pressures and flow velocities will be optimized based on the piping that was chosen. The calculations that are included in the software have been generated and evaluated by highly-degreed Engineers and Mathematicians. This software has been used for well over 10 years to check and assist in the designs of more than 2,000 systems across the U.S. and overseas. These designs vary in size from 10-15 stations per system to more than 3,000 stations per system. All systems that utilized our software have proven reliable and have not experienced any overpressure failures that were attributed to the design or pipe sizes. These designs have proven to be extremely reliable.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] I’m sure what you say is true in general, but all systems are different. In this case it is rather far to the next pump station at the Black Duck. I would think that the distance is about 3 miles from Marine Ave to the Black Duck. I’m also not certain what the internal diameter of the pipe is, but I think it is maximum 2’’. Is that true? The laterals are if I recall it correctly 1 ¼ ‘’.
Is it correct that these pumps deliver 8-12 gpm? If so it is not too hard to figure out what the maximum pressure would be if 150 pumps start at the same time. However, you need to calculate both the transient pressure at start up of 100-140 systems at once and the pressure when flow has been established.
What did your calculations indicate?

Check Valves
We recommend that a redundant check valve assembly be installed between the pump discharge and the street main on all installations. We also recommend that the valve be installed as close to the public right-of-way as possible. The purpose of this valve is to isolate the lateral line from the system main pressure. This valve is a safety measure in case the lateral line sustains damage for any reason. As you know, Westport has agreed to require these to be installed at all stations moving forward. They have also agreed to install these on all of the stations that have already come on line. I believe this process is moving forward as quickly as possible, but I am unaware of the exact timing and rollout of the plan.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] This is good and I thank you for supporting this addition of check valves at the curbs. I have voiced the opinion that that was necessary from the first time I heard about the system
My questions here are:
1. Why was this not done in the first place when you recommend it not only now, but also on your website?
2. Will these check valves be accessible?
3. What is their expected service life?

Hose Clamps
We have produced discharge hoses for 15 years using a very similar - if not identical - assembly method to the one that is used today. This hose has also proven to be very reliable over the tens of thousands that we have produced during that time period. There have been very few assembly issues that have been brought to our attention, which equates to an extremely low failure rate. We have always stood behind the product and have replaced the hose in question. For the failure that occurred at 9 Marine, we cannot say whether it was a result of a machine setting or a human error. The settings are difficult to change, and the process seems resistant to human error. Regardless of why it happened, and because we cannot say why it occurred we have devised and are currently executing a plan to isolate and validate the 48 hoses that were produced in June 2011. Our plan, is to replace all of the hoses with hoses that have been tested to withstand 150psi. We will then take the original hoses that were removed and test them to see if there is any further fallout. Depending on the results of those tests, we will determine what to do with the rest of the population already installed. We are also changing out the 49 hoses that shipped to Water Resource Technology in August 2011 with hoses that were tested to 150psi.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] You assume that this was due to a faulty hose clamp. That might be true, but it might also not be true. You also assume that the pressure in the main line was below 150 psi. I’d like to see the calculations of the system curve and the estimate of the initial inflow to the system when maybe well over 100 pumps started simultaneously. The transient pressure will be considerably higher than the pressure at steady state. First when I have seen such calculations will I be able to judge whether the pressure was below or above 150 psi.

Thermal Protection
Each of our pumps has two thermal protectors. One is attached to the motor and senses the heat generated by the motor winding. As amperage rises, the motor heats up and if it gets too hot, the thermal protector shuts the pump off.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] I asked what the temperature setting is for these thermal switches. I would think maybe 140 C?
It will take some time before the windings reach this temperature, whereas the pressure spike is immediate. Relying on thermal switches in the windings is therefore not an acceptable solution.
There is another protector in the motor controls that monitors the amperage more directly and also shuts off the pump if it senses an increased amperage condition.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] I believe more in these switches, but you have to tell me what the response time is for them to activate. As I said above the pressure rise is immediate and it takes some time for these to activate.
If all of the pumps turned on at the same time, the pumps with the highest head would shut off very quickly, and only the pumps with the lowest head would operate until their basins were empty. The thermal protectors would reset and try to turn back on. At that time the next lowest pumps would empty their basins and the higher headed pumps would shut back down. This process would work its way back to the beginning of the system until all of the basins were empty. This scenario has happened on practically every project we have installed and this process has worked without issue. Both of these protectors operate on a gradient, so the higher the amperage, the faster they shut the pump down. 
[Gunnar Hovstadius] We have to assume that the sewage pipe was filled all the way to the Black Duck. That means that all the fluid in the pipe has to be accelerated before the flow starts. This in turn means that the initial spike in pressure will be very high, higher than the pressure when flow has been established. In my opinion it is not unlikely that this initial spike could have exceeded 150 psi. We need to see the calculations of the transient pressure when the power came on and compare that to the time it takes for the overload switches to react.

See also my original questions about the amperage at which the system is supposed to turn off and motor data.

We publish most of our information/specifications/drawings/etc. on the internet at We would encourage you to look through that information, which would perhaps answer more questions that you have. After a redundant check valve is installed properly on a particular lateral, we can guarantee that home will not experience sewage backup from the main line into the home.
[Gunnar Hovstadius] Sorry that is hard for me since I don’t have the model number of the pump that was installed.

Who’s decision was it not to install these check valves in the laterals in the first place?
and why was that decision made????

Again, What is the expected life of these check valves? For how long will E-one and the town guarantee these? Will they be accessible for inspection?

It is our hope and goal to make the residents of Westport comfortable with the system to the point that they almost forget about it. No mechanical device is perfect, so there will be alarms in the future, but these alarms should be manageable and very infrequent.

Thank you once again for offering your time and expertise to this situation to make sure everyone has the best understanding possible!

The problem is that even if they install a second check valve it is not a solution that will be safe for years to come. Check valves have limited life spans and will have to be checked regularly. See the expert opinion I sent you excerpts from.  A second check valve would in all likelihood have prevented the disaster at Williams’ house, but it is not something you can trust say 3-4 years from now. We need a solution that cannot fail, that does not have to be subjected to constant supervision and checking and that will not go bad a number of years from now.
The problem with PD pumps is that they will increase pressure till something breaks or they are stopped by some other mean. Roto-dynamic pumps do not have this problem. They have a maximum pressure that they can generate so they are much safer.
One possibility would be to have a large safety valve for the whole area that will open if the system is pressurized over a certain limit. It could open into a large holding tank or the sound (not very likely that would be allowed).
We could have large safety valves that would pop on the green tanks if the pressure goes above a certain value. The air tube that you mentioned in another mail is not big enough and it probably ends to high up, but if it is made much larger and maybe a bit lower it might work. (It is better to have sewage in the garden and on the street than in the house).
We could put in an intermediate pump station at Duck Pond road with a large enough wet well . That would lower the large pressure build up due to the distance to the Black Duck.

There are a number of solutions that can be contemplated so please do your best, if you go there, to force them to do an independent review of the different options. What is suggested now is not safe enough.

Brian Waghorn
Field Service Engineering Manager
Environment One Corp.
work: 518-579-3216
email: [email protected]

From: Gunnar Hovstadius [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2011 4:14 AM
To: Waghorn, Brian
Cc: ‘Simon Fenner’; ‘Steven Bean’; [email protected]; ‘STACEY WILLIAMS’
Subject: RE: Thank you!

Hi Brian
I sent this to you more than 2 weeks ago but I still have not got an answer. I think all the questions I listed are relevant and need to be answered, so I hope we will get an answer soon.

I have heard that no one from the town and possibly E-one has contacted the Williams family to express sympathy over what they are going through. I find this deplorable if correct! The very least that could be done is to try to help this family that got their lives ruined for some time through no fault of their own, but due to a badly designed and/or manufactured sewer system. E-one and the town should write a letter and apologize for what happened.
Best Regards

From: Gunnar Hovstadius [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, September 12, 2011 10:03 AM
To: ‘Waghorn, Brian’
Cc: ‘Simon Fenner’; ‘Steven Bean’; ‘[email protected]
Subject: RE: Thank you!

Hi Brian
Thanks for the mail. Below are some points I have made regarding the sewage system and I think you are aware of most of them. These points need to be addressed. That means the already installed systems ought to be tested to make sure they withstand expected pressures. I’d also like to see the calculations made before the present system was installed.
I welcome your information about adding safety/check valves at the curb. It is a great step forward in the protection of the houses and you wonder why it was not included in the original design. I’d like to see how these check valves are going to be installed. Will they be accessible?


1.  I have never disputed that the backup in William’s house was due to the “faulty clamp”. The question is how many more clamps are there, that will not be able to hold the pressure when even more properties are attached to the system and the pressure is going to be even higher, which will happen.
2.  The present system is simply not inherently safe. It relies on ONE check valve and a number of clamps. None of these are fail-safe.
3.  The consequences of a failure are substantial and therefore we have to use utmost caution when it comes to ensuring that this will not happen to anyone else.
4.  I read somewhere that E-one has said the pumps will turn off when the thermal overload protection of the motor kicks in. That is true but how long does it take for a pump immersed in liquid to reach that temperature? I don’t know what temperature these are set at, but 140 degrees C is common. Even if it is as low as 100 degrees C (boiling temperature) it will take some time and then the damage may already be done. The pressure rise is immediate.
5.  The William’s system acted as a safety relief valve when it broke. Once that happened the system pressure dropped considerably, which is why no other properties were affected this time. There is thus absolutely no guarantee that this will not happen again after the next longer power outage and that one of the systems that survived this incident will be the next to pop. The addition of a check valve at the curb will improve this situation considerably. However, we also need to ensure that no other part of the system is over pressured.
6.  I’d like to see the system curve calculations and the calculated peak pressure occurring after a longer power outage.
7.  I’d also like to get information about the amp settings in control box. At what power does the motor stop? (I have no motor data).
8.  As far as I know, no one has got any information about the installed pumps. You need to make sure that this information is distributed. I.e. technical specifications, what kind of maintenance has to be done to the pump in order to keep it working well over the years, etc.
9.  The property owners have to get a guarantee from E-one and the town that this will not happen again.

Best Regards

Dr. Gunnar Hovstadius
14 Marine Ave.
Westport, CT 06880

From: Waghorn, Brian [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 6:14 PM
To: [email protected]; [email protected]
Subject: Thank you!

Mr. Hovstadius,

I first would like to apologize for mispronouncing your name today. If we speak again, I will make sure to get it right!

I would also like to thank you for the time you spent with me on the phone. I’m sure you are a very busy person and would rather not be spending your Friday evening talking about sewer systems…

If you have any future questions, please feel free to contact me via email or phone. We are here to support this community in any way we can for the life of the project.

Thank you once again for your time and I hope you have a wonderful trip to Africa and Europe!

Brian Waghorn
Field Service Engineering Manager
Environment One Corp.
work: 518-579-3216
email: [email protected]

NOTICE: This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are confidential and are only for the use of the person to whom they are addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you have received this e-mail in error, and any use, dissemination, forwarding, printing, copying or dealing with this e-mail, in any way whatsoever, is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please reply immediately by way of advice to us. It is the duty of the addressee/recipient to virus-scan and otherwise test the information provided, before loading it into any computer system. E/One does not warrant that the information is free from viruses or from any other defect or error.

Posted by Gunnar Hovstadius on October 07, 2011 at 07:40 PM | #

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