Clog causes sewage overflow in Ziv 129
Impacted students navigate reimbursement, health and displacement with limited support from the University.
On Feb. 2, sewage water flooded the first floor suites and basement of Ziv 129, damaging both University property and students’ personal property. Affected students were forced to act quickly to try and save personal belongings from the flood.
Andie Sheinbaum ’24 first noticed the overflow at 11:28 a.m. when she texted in the Ziv 129 hall group chat asking people to stop using water as there was “sewage backup” in her suite. She noted that “all of [her] stuff was ruined.”
Max Kappler ’25, the Ziv 129 community advisor, quickly responded by advising residents to stop running water and call facilities or public safety.
Sheinbaum reported that she received no response from facilities and then was “scolded” by the Brandeis police “for being rude” before they assisted with the sewage overflow in her suite. Facilities arrived at Ziv 129 in the early afternoon to try to alleviate the issue by turning off the building’s water supply and assessing the damages — first in the basement and then in the affected first floor suites.
Facilities began treatment of the affected units within hours of the initial report, after allowing students time to collect personal items. Facilities shut off the water in Ziv 129 until the clog was resolved. In a Feb. 4 statement to The Justice, Lori Kabel, the facilities services director, reported that a variety of people including in-house custodians, operations and maintenance staff and various other contractors started to “not only clean and disinfect the area but also replace any damaged carpet.” As a result, facilities tore out most of the carpets in these suites and placed industrial dehumidifiers in the suites to try to prevent mold growth. Additionally, in collaboration with the University, Environmental Health and Safety will inspect and test all affected rooms to ensure the safety of the students who live there.
According to Kabel, the overflow was the result of a clog caused by non-flushable items such as wipes and paper towels being flushed down toilets. This clog created a blockage between a line flowing from Ziv to the main campus sewer line, which connects to the city sewer pipes. Kabel stated the blockage was located between Ziv 129 and the South Street sewer connection, which caused Brandeis’ sewer manhole to overflow and back up. Ziv 129 is the lowest point on campus, so the sewage back-up accumulated there.
This is not the first time this situation has occurred in the area. Kabel recounted that there have been other clogs in residence hall bathrooms also caused by improper disposal of non-flushable items. Due to this incident, facilities is urging students to remember that only toilet paper should be flushed down the toilet. In light of the sewage overflow in Ziv 129, the facilities department is looking into possibilities to help prevent similar situations.
One proposed preventative measure is to install an apparatus to isolate Ziv 129 should this problem occur again. In a Feb. 4 interview with The Justice, Vincent Calia-Bogan ’25, an affected student, expressed concerns about why there were no preventative measures in place such as overflow sensors or a shut off valve.
In a Feb. 4 emailed statement to The Justice, Timothy Touchette, assistant dean of Student Affairs, corroborated many of Kabel’s statements while also providing additional information on how the University plans to support affected students going forward. The impacted students have been offered emergency temporary housing on campus, split between both Ridgewood and Village, until it is safe for them to move back into their suites. Many affected students opted to stay with friends and family off campus. Touchette also relayed that community living staff were “onsite and connected with affected students” and that his department worked to meet students immediate needs before considering long term support.
Calia-Bogan reported that while Brandeis reached out to affected students within around two hours of the onset of the overflow about temporary housing, responsibility was placed on the students to go to the Department of Community Living office before its closing at 5 p.m. to receive their temporary housing assignments amidst their efforts to save items from the sewage water. Calia-Bogan and Shienbaum conveyed that they did not receive help from Brandeis in moving their personal belongings.
A concern shared by several of the impacted students is whether or not they will be reimbursed for damaged or ruined items. When asked about reimbursement of damaged items, Touchette relayed that students received directions to take photos of the damaged items before discarding them. Touchette also said that on Monday Feb. 5 the Area Coordinator of Ziv, Jonathan Schaffer, will reach out to impacted students with damage submission information. Touchette claimed that Community Living has “always been supported by University insurance to help replace damaged items.”
Sheinbaum recounted that with exception of Andrea Dine, vice president of student affairs, and Shelby Harris, associate vice president of student affairs, who gave her and her suitemates toiletries, blankets, towels and other assorted necessities, “[DCL] has been the worst” as they have provided “no resources nor reassurances.” According to Sheinbaum, when she inquired about reimbursement following the overflow, DCL “said they wouldn’t cover anything that ‘shouldn’t be on the floor’ and made us wade through raw sewage to try and save our stuff.” Upon further inquiry about what qualifies as something that should not be on the ground she clarified that things such as books and laptops would be included in this category. The extent of University reimbursements remains to be seen.
The inconsistent information between students and faculty departments goes beyond the questions regarding reimbursement. Students are also unsure when they will be able to move back into their suites. DCL has provided a variety of different answers but no definitive date that students will be able to move back in.
Calia-Bogan expressed that he understands the University not being able to give a definitive date for students to move back as the damage of the overflow has not been fully assessed. However, he criticizes administration’s lack of clear communication and relayed he would rather Brandeis be transparent about their uncertainty.
Another sentiment communicated by Calia-Bogan was his concern regarding the health of students who reside in the affected suites and the safety of moving back into those suites. Sewage contains a variety of harmful pathogens including human waste. Both Calia-Bogan and Shienbaum reported having to repeatedly walk through feces-contaminated water. Calia-Bogan described the process of collecting his items as having to walk through a “literal river of human feces.” Upon arriving to save what items he could, Calia-Bogan recognized the potential health dangers. Requiring protection, his roommates wore KN95 masks while he wore a respirator, watertight shoes and nitrile gloves.
Shienbaum’s suite did not take these precautions. Brandeis provided masks and gloves several hours after the onset of the overflow and did not provide shoe coverings.
Shienbaum relayed that she is currently sick and is unsure if it is due to exposure to sewage water or due to the stress caused by her displacement. As of Feb. 4, the Brandeis Health Center has not reached out to affected students about potential health issues caused by overflow.
Repairs due to the sewage overflow are ongoing, and affected students are still navigating the consequences.
— Editor’s Note: Justice Editorial Assistant Lin Lin Hutchinson ’25 is a community advisor and did not contribute to this article.