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Biggest Offenders MIA in NY Sewage Pollution Reports

Photo: Advocates say New York Needs to more strictly enforce the state's Right to Know Law so sewage overflows such as this one into the Hudson River are reported. Photo Credit: Hudson Riverkeeper.
Photo: Advocates say New York Needs to more strictly enforce the state's Right to Know Law so sewage overflows such as this one into the Hudson River are reported. Photo Credit: Hudson Riverkeeper.
October 21, 2013

NEW YORK – It's called the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, and local environmental advocates are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to enforce it.

The state passed the Right to Know Law in 2012 and Katherine Nadeau, director of the Water and Natural Resources Program with Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY), says there are big gaps in reporting.

That's because the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) plans to exempt reporting of sewage overflows caused by events such as street flooding, which she says are happening a lot more often during severe storms all over New York.

"The state at this point is not fully enforcing the law,” she stresses. “So some of the biggest and worst and most consistent offenders are not going into this reporting process.

“That leaves us all at risk. If we don't know the water is dangerous, we don't know to stay out of it."

A big part of the problem is that many older towns and cities across the state rely on very old sewage treatment systems, and the only way they can handle extreme weather events is to discharge some raw and untreated sewage into local waterways.

Currently the DEC takes the position that these discharges are so routine that they won't need to be reported under the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act – but Nadeau disagrees.

"And our point is, you're crazy!” she says. “This is exactly the type of thing the law was intended to cover, and even in the law it says they've got to include these combined sewage overflows."

Nadeau adds this pollution is impacting New Yorkers in many ways, including 1,400 beach closing or advisory days in 2012 because of storm water runoff, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Every single day there is raw sewage and undertreated sewage that goes into our waterways,” she says. “And these are the same waterways that we fish in, that we play and recreate in and, in some cases, that we rely on for drinking water."

The state will be accepting public comment on the Right to Know law later this year.


Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY