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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
DATE: March 14, 2011
CONTACT: Jim Martin, 603 271-3710

Update on Plastic Disks in the Merrimack River and washing up along the Coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts

Concord, NH – As reported, small white circular shaped mesh disks that are approximately two inches in diameter were released into the Merrimack River from the Hooksett, NH Wastewater Treatment Facility on March 6, 2011 following heavy rainstorms. The Town of Hooksett has acknowledged that the disks were released from its wastewater treatment plant. Current estimates are that hundreds of thousands of the disks were released to the Merrimack River and are now present in Massachusetts and New Hampshire coastal areas and beaches.

The preliminary results of the most recent sampling of disks in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts indicate no bacterial contamination with e. coli. However, out of an abundance of caution, DES and the NH Division of Public Health Services advise that citizens should treat the disks as though they may contain bacterial contamination.

If you have come into contact with the disks, you are encouraged to follow the following public health guidelines:

Although the health risk is low, the public is advised not to handle these disks without protective plastic gloves and following appropriate procedures for hygiene.

  • The disks may be collected into plastic bags and disposed in a landfill as solid waste.
  • Children should not be allowed to play with the disks, and should not play in areas where the disks have appeared until the areas have been cleaned.
  • E coli and enterococcus are very common bacteria and they are among many different bacteria that are found in fecal matter.
  • Coming into contact with E coli on your skin is not infectious unless you put your fingers in your mouth, eat, drink or smoke or touch your eyes before washing your hands. E coli can cause serious infection for infants or individuals with weakened immune systems, but this is a rare infection and generally requires exposure to high numbers of bacteria.
  • People who may already have handled these disks and then washed their hands afterwards are at minimal, if any, risk of illness. As with any potential exposure to bacterial, if fever, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea should start to occur in the 2-5 days after exposure, medical attention should be sought.
  • Do not allow pets such as dogs and cats to come in contact with the disks. If a pet has ingested a disk or part of disk, concerned pet owners may consult with their veterinarian.

Guidance for Clean Up:

  • For those involved in clean-up of these plastic disks, careful hand hygiene should be practiced, including use of plastic or latex gloves for the pick up, followed by thorough hand washing with soap and water after the gloves are removed. Gloves (such as latex gloves) should be worn for picking up and disposing of disks as described above. No additional equipment or clothing is required. (Hand gels may be used and do kill these bacteria but hand washing with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds is preferred)
  • Disks should be disposed of in the normal solid waste stream, including placing in trash bags or in dumpsters if provided.
  • Clothing worn during the cleanup work should be laundered as normal.

Clean Up Efforts:
Coordinated clean up efforts are being organized. Clean up has begun in many areas, including Hampton State Beach.

DES and the Blue Ocean Society are coordinating a volunteer effort for Wednesday from noon until 5 p.m. to remove the disks from the following areas:

  • North Hampton Beach
  • Hampton Beach
  • Seabrook Beach

Stations will be staffed, and the public is welcome to participate. More information about these efforts will be posted on both the DES website at www.des.nh.gov or the Blue Ocean Society’s website www.blueoceansociety.org.

For more information or to report seeing these disks, please call Jim Martin, DES Public Information Officer at 603 271-3710.

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NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

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