Update, Aug. 10: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed the “Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act,” according to Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg. This new law, which will become effective on May 1, 2013, will allow the public to know about discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage enter local water sources.
Original story follows.
A bill that would require immediate public notification of discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage into water sources is on its way to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for approval.
The “Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act” — legislation that would add a requirement to state law that sewer discharges also be reported to local health departments and local media, in addition to the Department of Environmental Conservation — passed both the state Assembly and Senate on June 21.
“Families need to know that the water they are swimming or fishing in is not going to pose a health risk,” said Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, D-Long Beach, a sponsor of the bill. “Currently, there is no way for a family to know if water is polluted unless the county health department has closed a beach.”
According to a press release from Weisenberg’s office, the legislation requires operators of sewage treatment plants to:
- immediately disclose to the DEC that a discharge of untreated or partially treated sewage has occurred, including combined sewer overflows;
- release the time and location of the discharge, along with the duration, cause and steps taken to clean up the discharge to the public;
- disclose the event to local health departments and town officials;
- release notification to the public via email in a timely fashion; and
- require the DEC to post information to their website and provide updates of the incident.
Long Beach resident Scott Bochner into Reynolds Channel from the Bay Park Sewer Treatment facility, located across the channel in East Rockaway, starting in 2010.
"This act will finally give the public the right to know when raw or partially treated sewage is discharged into our waters, allowing the public to avoid unnecessary exposure to dangerous sewage pollution," said Bochner, who helped form Sludge Stoppers Task Force.
Bochner said that from August 2010 to January 2011, the Bay Park Sewer Treatment Plant dumped 38 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Reynolds Channel and did not notify the public.
Weisenberg had previously sought funds to study cleaning up Reynolds Channel and the Western Bays. This year, Weisenberg was able to obtain an additional $300,000 to allow the DEC to develop solutions to reduce pollution going into the bays.
A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 4,000 documented illnesses from recreation waters in the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Weisenberg said.
“Exposure to even a small amount of untreated sewage can cause serious illness and can lead to chronic diseases,” the assemblyman added. “By providing immediate public notification, we can protect our families, while taking necessary action to clean up our water and research preventative measures for the future.”