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Is Your Health At Risk? Reintroduced Legislation Would Let You Know

Families would find out when their health may be at risk from contamination due to sewage facility overflow under a bill that’s been reintroduced by New Jersey U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Sewage Drain
Flickr User Les Chatfield

Called the Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act, the measure would introduce new, more stringent monitoring practices of sewage facilities.  It also would ensure that neighboring communities know when their environment and health might be at risk from sewage overflow and contamination.  Lautenberg also is calling on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe to quickly allocate Sandy relief funds to rebuild New Jersey’s water treatment facilities.

“Families have the right to know when sewage facilities overflow and threaten their health.  This bill will put new measures in place to monitor facilities and notify communities when they are at risk,” says Lautenberg.  “Superstorm Sandy made the need for this ‘right to know’ legislation abundantly clear when storm damage caused millions of gallons of untreated sewage to flow into Newark Bay and the Raritan River.”

In 2004, an EPA report estimated that 118,000 sanitary sewer overflow events occur every year and release up to 860 billion gallons of untreated wastewater.  This contributes to beach closures, shellfish bed closures, contamination of drinking water supplies and other environmental and public health concerns. In the report, the EPA recommended improved monitoring and reporting programs.

The legislation responds to those recommendations and would require treatment works operators to institute effective monitoring technology, to quickly notify public health authorities and public water systems of overflows with significant human health consequences and to notify the public of overflows that may have the potential to affect human health as soon as possible.

During Sandy, two of the state’s largest wastewater treatment plants lost power and sustained damage.  As a result, millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage flowed directly into Newark Bay and the Raritan River.

Lautenberg has sent a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe urging him to quickly release the $600 million in water infrastructure repair funding that was included in the Superstorm Sandy relief package.  The funds can be used to repair damage and improve the resiiency of New Jersey’s water facilities, including projects to prevent future sewage overflows.

“Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey’s water infrastructure, creating serious environmental and public health hazards.  In response to this damage, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act included $600 million for the State Revolving Fund programs under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.  I urge EPA to move forward quickly to use these funds to repair the damage to improve the resiliency of New Jersey’s water facilities, including through projects to prevent sewage overflows during future storms,” wrote Lautenberg.

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