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When Sewage is in the Water, Knowledge is the First Line of Defense

The public must be notified of raw sewage overflows.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each year, approximately 23 BILLION gallons of raw sewage are dumped into New Jersey’s waterways from over 200 combined sewer outfalls. 

As little as one-twentieth of an inch of rain (or snow melt) can cause an overflow of sewage directly into a waterbody, such as the Passaic, Hudson, Raritan or Hackensack Rivers, or the Raritan or Newark Bays. 

New Jersey residents who splash, kayak, swim, or fish in these waters have no way of knowing when the water is unsafe and as a result, can get terribly sick. 

Currently, no one knows when the water is unsafe because no one tests the water after a discharge from a combined sewer outfall.  No alarm is sounded on the days when sewage in the water can cause skin infections, hepatitis, diarrhea, and other illnesses. 

The State of New Jersey issues permits allowing these discharges but does nothing to measure the impact on the environment and public health, or to inform the public of the Combined Sewer Overflow's existence.  (To learn more about CSOs and sign our petition, please click here.)

 Senator Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee is tackling an important public health issue--public notification of sewage spills--through his new bill, S-3119.  Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are one of the most pressing environmental issues affecting the Hudson-Raritan Estuary, while also threatening public health.  New York State is currently working on a sewage right-to-know bill and 11states have already passed such a bill. 

In order to protect the public, all permitted combined sewer outfalls should have big, bright signs that are clearly visible from both land and water to identify the outfalls to the public. 

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should identify the areas around outfalls that are typically affected by combined sewer pollution and erect signs warning the public that such areas may be unsafe after rain or snow melt. 

Just as the public is alerted to potentially dangerous temperatures, air quality, or other safety risks, the public can be alerted when the water is potentially dangerous. Therefore, Baykeeper suggests alerting the public when weather forecasts make an overflow likely in the next 24-hours.

An effective CSO notification bill should provide for timely and consistent public notification; public health agency involvement; and, enforcement of the rules.  Senator Smith’s bill should require regular water quality sampling, with the results available to the public on the DEP's website.

Notification will help to protect the public health but, ultimately, New Jersey must tackle its CSO problem head-on.  Raw sewage in our waterways is unacceptable and limits recreational opportunities in our Hudson-Raritan Estuary and their associated economic benefits. 

Until our rivers and bays reach the Clean Water Act standard of swimmable waters, it is imperative that the public knows when its waters are safe for recreation and when they are not.  Knowledge is the first line of defense.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Face2Face Cosmetics January 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Wow what an education I just received - thought they tested regularly and closed beaches, rivers, etc. when they needed to. Signed the petition! Good post!

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