NRDC Applauds New EPA Proposal to Control Raw Sewage Discharges

Group Says New Rules Would Protect the Health of All Americans

WASHINGTON (January 5, 2001) - NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) applauded EPA’s proposed regulations to control sewer overflows, saying it would protect the health of all Americans. The regulations, announced by EPA today, are based on recommendations from a federal advisory group that included a representative from NRDC.

"If finalized and enforced, these proposed regulations would prevent raw sewage from contaminating our nation’s beaches, lakes and streams and jeopardizing public health," says Nancy Stoner, director of the Clean Water Project at NRDC.

Sanitary sewers are designed to carry wastes to sewage treatment plants, but when overloaded, inadequately maintained or obstructed, they dump raw sewage into basements, streets and waterways. Sanitary sewer overflows, which contain bacteria and viruses, fecal matter, untreated industrial wastes, and excessive phosphorous and nitrogen, cause fish kills, gastrointestinal illnesses, beach closings and shellfish bed closures. Raw sewage backups also contaminate streets and basements as well as rivers and streams, and particularly threaten children’s health.

The proposed rules would not allow untreated sewage discharges into waterways except in cases where there is an unavoidable bypass. They would clarify how municipalities should prevent overflows (by ensuring adequate sewer capacity and maintaining sewer condition, for example) and require that health agencies and the public be informed of potential health threats when an overflow occurs.

The proposal includes cost-effective approaches to controlling sewer overflows that reflects a consensus reached by the federal advisory committee. The committee rejected alternative proposals that would have allowed more discharges of untreated sewage on the grounds that they were inconsistent with the Clean Water Act and a potential threat to public health.

"The billions of dollars we spent in the 1970s and 1980s to build wastewater treatment plants is wasted when sewage never makes it to the treatment plant," says Stoner. "That’s why NRDC supports regulatory controls that will eliminate raw sewage discharges in our streets, waterways and homes."