In our previous issue, we reported on how raw sewage came spewing out of Reykjavík’s sewer system and into the waters southwest of town – by Ægissíða – at a rate of about 750 litres per second, for ten days, to a total volume of about one million cubic metres of sewage. Many questions have arisen since then. What we know so far is that the water treatment system was temporarily disabled while repairs were made, and the only other choice besides letting raw sewage pour forth was to let it back up into peoples’ homes, which would have been worse.
All well and good, and although there was some political pushback, the matter had more or less blown over by the end of the week. Despite this, a rare phenomenon practically unheard of amongst public officials began to appear in the discussion: apologies.
The mayor is sorry
Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson addressed the matter contritely:
“Everyone involved agrees that informing the general public could have been done better, that this should have been reported on sooner. There was also concurrence within city council to learn from this and ensure that something like this won’t happen again.”
More than just lip service, Dagur assured reporters that the city council has tasked city auditors with reviewing the case and determining what could be done better.
The health board is sorta sorry
The Reykjavík Health Supervisory Authority (RHSA) were also apologetic about the matter. While their role in this might seem minimal at best, it came to light that they actually screwed up royally.
According to Article 10 of the Law on the Right to Information in Environmental Matters, authorities are obliged to inform the public immediately if an incident occurs which seriously damages the environment. On June 14, two days after the sewage system broke, the level of fecal bacteria in the water rose to about three times acceptable levels. However, the RHSA didn’t report on the matter until July 7—two days after public broadcasting service RÚV did.
As such, the RHSA admitted to reporters that it would have been “desirable” to have taken more water samples and to have informed the public on their results sooner.
You might think these are not earth-shattering admissions of culpability. Bear in mind, though, that a public apology—even a carefully worded conditional one—is virtually unheard of when it comes to public officials. As such, the Great Sewage Debacle of 2017 has already distinguished itself from all other public kerfuffles solely by virtue of the presence of “I’m sorry.”