The finding comes more than six months after the Alliance for the Great Lakes filed a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the information, seeking answers on behalf of the many Alliance volunteers who responded to the incidents and helped the Coast Guard in its initial investigation. In total, the Coast Guard located 266 pages of documents from its investigation and shared the bulk of them with the Alliance.
The records show MMSD released an estimated 686 million gallons of combined sewer overflow June 7-9, 2008 and an estimated 1.9 billion gallons July 22-25, 2010. Flooding summer rains struck the region both times, overwhelming the plant and prompting major releases into Lake Michigan. In the days that followed, tons of "mystery trash"-- including food wrappers, bottle caps, plastic bits, syringes and woody debris -- was found on beaches along some 50 miles of the west Michigan coastline. Alliance Adopt-a-Beach volunteers and shoreline property owners were among the first responders, clearing beaches and reporting to the Coast Guard any mailing addresses, bar codes and other identifiable markings they found -- information that ultimately helped the Coast Guard pinpoint the source.
The FOIA documents say plastic materials found on the beaches likely originated from a recycling center; the source of the medical waste has not yet been explained. Alliance Water Quality Program Manager Lyman Welch, who filed the FOIA request said, "Solving sewage overflows in the Great Lakes is complex work that requires innovation, funding and regulation. These findings are troubling, particularly because the problems aren't unique to any one city or lake." For example, the same flooding rains that forced the Milwaukee sewage discharge in July 2010 also hit Chicago, overwhelming the sewage treatment plant there and prompting the release of 6.5 billion gallons of sewage-laced stormwater into Lake Michigan. The probe reported no waste from the Chicago discharge among the west Michigan debris, however.