June 27, 2014
Contact: Vickie Carson
MAMMOTH CAVE, Ky., June 27, 2014 – Sewage from a spill on May 27, 2014, has been detected inside Mammoth Cave. Following the spill, park staff began collecting water samples above and below ground. Samples collected on June 16 showed elevated levels of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli), a common indicator of sewage. Levels of E.coli in subsequent samples returned to lower, background levels, but then rose following storm events.
"The appearance of the spill may have disappeared on the surface of the park, but it is important that we trace it and see how it may impact resources underground," said Russ Runge, Acting Superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park. "In a karst area, everything that happens on the surface affects the cave below. At this point, it appears that pulses of storm-water mobilize residual sewage causing elevated E.coli levels in certain areas for short periods after storms."
Park staff and Caveland Environmental Authority (CEA) workers responded to the spill on May 27. CEA estimated that approximately 5,000 gallons leaked from sewage lines, 3,000 gallons were initially retrieved. Several check dams positioned on May 27 have been left in place to slow drainage of sewage residue during rain storms. Water samples are being collected from run-off that accumulates behind the check dams and inside the cave at locations where the spill would most likely drain.
"Water samples collected at Cataracts, a waterfall adjacent to the Violet City Lantern Tour, showed elevated levers of E.coli," said Runge. "We will continue to run the tour because Cataracts is off the tour route, away from where visitors walk."
The spill occurred along the Mammoth Cave Parkway and above the habitat of the Kentucky cave shrimp, an endangered species. Park staff are expanding the sampling area by collecting water samples at water table locations in the cave and at cave springs on the surface.