Demanding the Right to Know When Sewage Overflows Impact Our Local Waterways
Healthy water bodies are essential to our health and our quality of life throughout New York and Connecticut. Whether it is for boating, fishing or swimming; we rely heavily on our waterways for recreation and tourism, and deserve the right to know when our beaches, waterways, and communities have been contaminated from sewage.
Many communities in New York, Connecticut, and across the nation are adversely impacted from sewage overflows. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, between 1.8 and 3.5 million Americans become ill annually from contact with recreational waters contaminated by sewage. Adverse health impacts from parasites, viruses, and bacteria found in raw sewage include short-term gastrointestinal problems, infections and fevers; and long-term chronic conditions such as liver, heart, or kidney failure; as well as arthritis and cancer.
Contaminants from sewage contribute to red and brown tide algal blooms, which can result in unhealthy fish populations and create serious health risks upon consumption. Sewage pollution also contributes to shellfish bed closures, as well as beach closures that are responsible for economic losses of $1 – 2 billion annually in the US. When our heavily frequented beaches and fisheries are put at risk of contamination, not only does the economy suffer, but members of the public are put at risk. The threat exists throughout New York and Connecticut.
Examples of the threat throughout New York:
- In 2011, Hurricane Irene caused several sewage treatment plants (STP) to overflow, including Bay Park, Great Neck Water Pollution Control District, Village of Lawrence, and Long Beach STPs.
- In 2010 the Bay Park STP had several mechanical problems that lead to numerous sewage overflows. In one March event, over 3,500,000 gallons of sewage overflowed.
- On August 14, 2011 a raw sewage back-up caused untreated effluent to rush into homes and onto the roadway in Baldwin, NY. Ultimately the sewage discharged into Parsonage Creek, a tributary of the South Shore Estuary Reserve.
- Long Island Sound is a vital recreational, tourist, and economic resource; generating $8.5 billion to the regional economy annually.
- From 2006-2010, the Hudson River failed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for safe swimming 21% of the time, which is three times the national average for beaches;
- Twenty-seven billion gallons of sewage enter New York Harbor each year and can end up traveling up the Hudson River;
- The Hudson River is supports a $4.7 billion tourism and recreation industry.
Western New York
- Every year, outdated wastewater treatment facilities spill over 23 billion gallons of sewage into the Great Lakes;
- The Buffalo Sewer Authority allows more than four billion gallons of sewage to be discharged into local waters annually, which may cost upwards of $500 million to fix;
- The top nine beaches in NYS that had the most days that exceeded standards for contamination in 2010 were ALL Great Lakes beaches;
- In New York alone, the Great Lakes support four million jobs and a sport fishery worth $2.27 billion annually.
Examples of the threat throughout Connecticut:
- Over 140 beach closings/swimming advisory days were issued in Connecticut in 2010;
- As a result of Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011, thirteen STP’s discharged untreated sewage into local waterways; and at least one STP did not resume treatment until a week after the storm;
- An overflow event in October of 2011 released over 40 million gallons of untreated sewage into Stamford Harbor, causing viral levels to skyrocket and shutting down shellfish beds for nearly a month.
Victory! CT Passes Sewage Right to Know Law
On May 2, 2012, CT Governor Dannel Malloy signed The Public’s Right to Know of a Sewage Spill (Public Act 12-11). The new law requires the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to notify the public whenever sewage overflows contaminate local waterways. The law was passed with strong bipartisan support and now stands as a model for other states to follow. Citizens Campaign for the Environment applauds the State of Connecticut for passing this commonsense and groundbreaking public health protection! CCE thanks our members and friends for taking action to support the legislation. Nearly 6,000 signatures were collected, and nearly 2,000 letters were sent to elected officials in support of the public's right to know when sewage overflows occur in CT. Public support was essential for passage of the law.
Victory! NY Passes Sewage Right to Know Law
CCE is applauding Governor Cuomo for signing the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act (A.10585A Sweeney / S.6268D Grisanti) into law. The bill was passed by the legislature on the final day of the 2012 session. This act will finally give the public the right to know when raw or partially treated sewage is discharged into New York waters, allowing the public to avoid unnecessary exposure to dangerous sewage pollution. Thousands of sewage overflows occur throughout NY every year. They contaminate beaches, bays, rivers, lakes, and streams; and can flood streets and back up into homes or other buildings.
In addition to public notification about overflows, the DEC will produce a statewide Sewage Discharge Report each year that will report annual discharges and remedial responses taken. Increased public awareness of the size and scope of New York's sewage problems should spur increased investment in solving the problem.
The public has demonstrated overwhelming support for passage of this important legislation. 21,500 letters were sent to elected officials, and 50,000 signatures were collected in support of the public's right to know when sewage overflows contaminate New York's waterways and communities.
Updated by tbono 8/13/12