May 24, 2007

New Bill Aims to Protect People from Swimming in Sewage

Every year hundreds of billions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage are dumped into the rivers and lakes of America and people living nearby are not aware. Congressmen Timothy Bishop (D-NY) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) are working to provide communities with the information they need to begin protecting people from sewage pollution. Today both lawmakers joined to introduce the Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act of 2007. If passed, it would be the first law that would require sewage treatment plants to tell Americans exactly what is in their water.

“Every year, more than 860 billion gallons of sewage are dumped into the rivers and lakes in our own backyards,” says American Rivers’ president Rebecca Wodder. “That’s enough sewage to fill 8,400 Olympic sized swimming pools each and every day of the year.”

“When it comes to water, what you don't know can hurt you. Each year, millions of Americans are sickened from swimming in contaminated water,” says Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY). “Current regulatory gaps are unacceptable. The Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act would protect Americans by requiring sewage operators to monitor their systems and notify the public about hazardous sewage overflows.”

In many communities, sewer systems are designed to dump overflow of raw or partially treated sewage directly into a nearby river when the treatment plant is overwhelmed by a large storm. Global warming experts predict that these severe storms will become more frequent in some regions as the planet gets hotter, resulting in even more frequent sewage overflows.

“Each year, millions of Americans become sick as a result of swimming in water contaminated by sanitary and combined sewer overflows. Coastal communities and beach-goers have a right to know when the water quality poses a danger to public health,” said Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02). “This legislation would ensure better monitoring, reporting, and public notification of sewer overflows which would save millions of American from getting sick every year.”

Along with these intentional overflows, America’s aging sewer systems are plagued with accidental spills due to broken pipes or equipment, along with human errors. There are currently no consistent reporting and public notification requirements for sewage overflows and spills.

“The dirty little secret is that every year sewage contaminated waters cause more than seven million people to get sick, but people aren’t even told when they, their families, and their pets should probably stay out of the water,” says Katherine Baer, Director of Healthy Waters for American Rivers.

Those seven million illnesses are placing an unhealthy burden on the nation’s already taxed health care system. Conservative estimates show that we as a nation pay more than four billion dollars a year for the medical costs associated with treating infectious water born illnesses. For the most vulnerable segments of our population, children, elderly, and those with already weak immune systems, these illnesses can become deadly.