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Riverbend shuttered to the public until further notice

ELKINS — Riverbend Park in Elkins will be closed to the public until further notice, City of Elkins and Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission officials announced Friday. The reason is the park’s proximity to the city’s wastewater treatment plant amid concerns related to transmission of COVID-19.

“We’re closing Riverbend Park to the public in response to reports that coronavirus can be detected in the feces of infected people,” said Bob Pingley, operations manager for City of Elkins. “The issue at Riverbend is that the park is adjacent to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.”

As wastewater arrives at the plant, one of the first steps in the treatment process is passage through the “oxidation ditch,” a boomerang-shaped closed-loop reactor where microorganisms feed on the nutrients in the water. In this loop, the water is agitated by three paddlewheel-like rotors that keep the water moving and oxygenated for these microorganisms.

“We know that, as COVID-19 spreads in the community, it will end up in our wastewater treatment plant as well,” says Pingley. “Out of an abundance of caution, we don’t want people walking or exercising close to where wastewater is being agitated by the rotors in the oxidation ditch.”

A recent study — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4692156/ — published in the American Journal of Infection Control reported that “potentially infectious aerosols may be produced in substantial quantities during flushing (of toilets).” Although the study was focused on disease transmission risks within healthcare facilities as a result of toilet flush plumes and concludes that current evidence is inconclusive, city officials don’t want to take any unnecessary risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By analogy, it seems possible that this same aerosolization effect could occur during the agitation of the wastewater in the oxidation ditch,” says Pingley. “We don’t consider this a high risk, but we are in a situation with a lot of unknowns and we’d rather err on the side of caution. In our judgement, this is the safest course of action for the time being.”

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