Many communities in New York State and throughout the nation are served by aging and dilapidated sewage infrastructure. The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act will protect the public from avoidable exposures to sewage in our waterways by requiring Publicly Owned Treatment Works and Sewer Systems to report discharges of raw and partially treated sewage to the public and to local and state agencies in a timely manner.
Due to the decline in federal funding for wastewater infrastructure in recent decades, hundreds of wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems across New York State are using inadequate technology.
As a result, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage is discharged into the waters we use to swim, boat, fish and in some cases, drink, each year.
“Discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage can pose a significant health risk to people that are fishing or swimming in contaminated waterways,” said Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. “The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act will help ensure that New Yorkers receive notification about sewage overflows, so that they can take precautions to avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful sewage pollution.”
“Families need to know that the water they are swimming or fishing in is not going to pose a health risk,” Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D – Nassau) said. “Currently, there is no way for a family to know if water is polluted unless the county health department has closed a beach.”
State law currently requires certain notification about sewage discharge in a local water source to be reported to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). This measure would modify the reporting requirement to include local health departments and local media. In addition, this legislation would require operators of sewage treatment plants to:
- immediately disclose to the DEC that a discharge of untreated or partially treated sewage has occurred, including combined sewer overflows;
- release the time and location of the discharge, along with the duration, cause and steps taken to clean up the discharge to the public;
- disclose the event to local health departments and town officials;
- release notification to the public via email in a timely fashion; and
- require the DEC to post information to their website and provide updates of the incident.
“In this day of advanced communications there is no reason to allow the public to swim, fish, boat or recreate in waters contaminated with sewage. Warning the public of a clear health hazard before they enter polluted waters is a meaningful public policy that prevents families and children from becoming sick. We are thrilled that all municipalities will now be required to provide public notice of these dangers when they occur. CCE congratulates Assemblyman Sweeney and Senator Grisanti for their tremendous leadership to get this bill passed this legislative session,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.’
“Riverkeeper knows firsthand how important information on water quality is to the public,” said Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper. “People have the right to know what our government agencies already know – where and when sewage is discharged into the waters we swim, fish and boat in – so we can make informed decisions on where and when we get in the water.”
“A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 4,000 documented illnesses from recreation waters in the U.S. in 2005 and 2006. Exposure to even a small amount of untreated sewage can cause serious illness and can lead to chronic diseases.” Assemblyman Weisenberg added.
“By providing immediate public notification, we can protect our families, while taking necessary action to clean up our water and research preventative measures for the future.” Assemblyman Weisenberg said
Assemblyman Weisenberg has long fought to help keep Nassau County’s water clean. In 2010, based on constituent concerns, he filed a formal record request with the DEC for records on untreated and partially treated sewage discharges. “Untreated and partially-treated sewage discharges are quite common, and the public has a right to know as soon as they occur,” added Assemblyman Weisenberg.
In addition, Assemblyman Weisenberg has successfully fought for funds to study cleaning up Reynolds Channel and the Western Bays. In 2010, he fought for $600,000 for Stony Brook University to study the impacts of pollution on the Western Bays. This year, the Assemblyman was able to obtain an additional $300,000 to allow the DEC to develop solutions to reduce pollution going into the bays.
The bill now goes to Governor Cuomo for his approval.