Ongoing Sewage Overflows Pose Serious Public Health Risk
Exposure to raw sewage in our waterways leaves people vulnerable to a host of disease-causing pathogens. The EPA estimates that 1.8 – 3.5 million people get sick from swimming, boating, or fishing in fecal contaminated water each year. While most people quickly recover from these illnesses, they can serious for children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
Connecticut enacted its first Sewer Right to Know Act (SRTKA) in 2012 to protect the public from unwitting exposure to sewage in our waterways. This year there have already been over 200 sewage spills reported in Connecticut, more than 60 of which reached a waterway. Events like the delayed public notification of millions of gallons of sewage into the Mill River this July illustrate the need to strengthen the existing law.
“With federal enforcement of the Clean Water Act getting weaker by the day, it is more critical than ever that states fill the void to protect their people from the serious economic, environmental, and health risks of polluted waters,” said Soundkeeper Bill Lucey who tracks this issue out on the Sound and in the Legislature.
Save the Sound is advocating for the following revisions to the SRTKA:
REQUIRE QUICK REPORTING AND ANNUAL REPORT
- Anyone responsible for a sewage spill should be required to report the incident no later than two hours from discovery to DEEP and the Department of Public Health (DPH).
- Notification of the spill must also be provided within two hours to the public.
- Reporting must include estimates of the scale of the sewage spill in order to best inform public officials and the general public of necessary precautions.
- Responsibility of reporting to all impacted communities must be clarified and streamlined through a pre-vetted spill response plan.
- Signs warning the public of closures should be pre-ordered and ready to post as soon as the municipality is notified at known locations outlined in the spill response plan.
- DEEP and/or DPH should be required to post reported information on their websites within two hours and compile an annual report.
ADD ELECTRONIC NOTIFICATIONS TO THE PUBLIC
- The development and use of electronic public notifications should be required to provide better and more immediate information about a sewage spill. The public can opt into receiving alerts from this system to learn of sewage spills as soon as they are reported to DEEP.
- Notifications would include: the location and estimated volume of discharge; the steps taken to contain the discharge; reasonable public health, safety, or welfare concerns or environmental concerns, as well as precautions that members of the public should take.
- This electronic push notification system will supplement notification required by public officials to constituents.
EXPAND THE DEFINITION OF SEWAGE SPILL TO INCLUDE
- All discharges of untreated/partially treated sewage, including combined sewer overflows.
- A definition of “large” sewage spills that should be treated like a toxic waste spill.