TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (WXYZ) - Traverse City’s new $360,000 Clinch Park’s splash pad was contaminated with human waste due to a sewer backup. City workers discovered it June 30 at mid-morning. The 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.
Splash pad visitors reported to the Grand Traverse County Health Department incidents of gastrointestinal illnesses and one rash complaint from people who played in the system on June 29 and June 30.
The health department reported that the illnesses were consistent with exposure to raw sewage after children played in contaminated splash pad.
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.
"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 county's health department.
Other splash pad visitors think otherwise.
Nicole Miller splash pad visitor 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."
Miller said she went over other possible causes for her son's illness with health department officials and none of them fit. But health department officials don't include Miller's son in their log of illnesses related to raw sewage contamination.
While those who reported illness did not require hospitalization, the health department tells people to pay close attention to those who visited the park. It could take anywhere from one to two weeks to show signs of illness.
As for the company, city officials turned off the water feature after Clinch Park's grand reopening on June 25 because it did not have a construction permit or a license to operate the splash pad. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requires documents before a facility like this can open and operate.
Lauren Vaughn, Traverse City’s parks and recreation superintendent said that the chlorine levels in the water were tested three times each day before the back-up was discovered on June 30.
"There's just so many other possible avenues for these illnesses, it's hard to say what caused all of it," Vaughn said.
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