Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Sewage Spill Bill Faces Senate Today

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Sewage Spill Bill Faces Senate Today

Article excerpt

Sewer authorities will be required to notify the public promptly about any raw sewage overflows into local rivers and bays under a bill expected to pass the state Senate today.

Environmental groups have been pushing for some sort of public notification about sewer overflows because the health of swimmers, kayakers and others who use local waterways could be at risk if they come in contact with the sewage.

More than 23 billion gallons of raw sewage and other pollutants pours each year into New Jersey's bays and rivers - including the Hackensack, Passaic and Hudson - because aging sewer systems can't handle the extra flow of water during heavy rains. The raw sewage and toxic waste spills from more than 200 outfall pipes, including some in Ridgefield Park, Hackensack and Paterson.

The outfall pipes are part of older systems that rely on combined sewage lines to handle sewage from buildings and storm water runoff from roadways and parking lots. When heavy rains hit, they can't handle the extra flow, and it gets dumped out of the system through the outfall pipes before reaching sewage treatment facilities.

Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, said the proposed law is needed because many people don't realize sewer overflows even occur. "The vast majority of people are still ignorant to the fact that towns are dumping raw sewage into our rivers on a regular basis," he said. "Providing public notice about the overflows would be very important from a public health standpoint."

Untreated sewage can trigger illnesses such as gastroenteritis - a stomach inflammation that causes vomiting and diarrhea - as well as hepatitis and skin, respiratory and ear infections. The sewage can also inflict economic pain, such as lost revenue from beach closures, fish kills and closed shellfish beds.

"We have a huge combined sewer overflow problem in New Jersey," said Debbie Mans, head of NY/NJ Baykeeper, which has pushed for the legislation. "It's really important to notify the public when these overflows occur so they can make the right choice about whether to use waterways for recreation."

Financial burden feared

The New Jersey bill requires a sewage utility to tell the state Department of Environmental Protection about a potential overflow as soon as possible before an overflow or just after one occurs. …

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