Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Raw Sewage Overflow Notification Bill Passes House

Jun 23: the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a voice vote, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY), The Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 2452), which is designed to protect Americans from hazardous overflows in beaches, rivers and lakes. Every year, sewage-contaminated water sickens millions of Americans who unknowingly swim in it. Bishop said New York City alone discharges 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage annually into surrounding bodies of water. There is no Federal law requiring sewage operators to monitor for hazardous leaks or notify the public of such leaks.

Bishop indicated in a release that, “The best way to avoid human health and environmental concerns from sewer overflows is to ensure that they never occur in the first place. However, even with significant increases in investment, sewer overflows will continue to occur. Therefore, it is imperative that we provide the public with comprehensive and timely notification of sewer overflows. I introduced the Right-to-Know Act to ensure that all Americans can protect themselves and their families from contact with untreated sewage and to reduce economic losses due to waterborne illness.”

Currently, instead of clear federal regulations, there is a patchwork of regulations in states and localities. It has been estimated that between 1.8 million and 3.5 million Americans become sick every year just from swimming in waters contaminated by sewer overflows. The loss of recreational revenue due to contamination has been valued at between $1 billion and $2 billion while economic losses due to swimming-related illnesses are estimated at $28 billion annually. In addition to enforcing tougher public health standards, the bill would make sewage operators eligible for federal clean water funds to monitor their systems and to develop procedures to notify the public.

Commenting on the bill, Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers said, “The safety of our water should never be a guessing game. Thanks to the Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act, people will know when their local rivers have been contaminated by sewage. When contaminated tomatoes were discovered in supermarkets, they were pulled from the shelf. We need the same warning when our waterways are polluted. Knowledge is power, and in this case, knowledge can mean the difference between staying healthy or falling ill.”

The bipartisan legislation, which had 57 cosponsors including Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) who joined with Bishop on the introduction, enjoys broad support from more than 150 groups including numerous public health groups. Companion legislation, S. 2080, has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and is currently in the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Access a release from Representative Bishop (
click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2452 (click here). Access a release from American Rivers (click here). [*Water]