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Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act on the Move in NYS Legislature


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Tina Posterli, 516-526-9371, [email protected]
Adrienne Esposito, 516-390-7150, [email protected]
Brian Smith, 716-831-3206, [email protected]

Environmental Groups Applaud Significant Progress–
Bill Passes Assembly & to Advance in Senate

Groups call for full passage of critical public health protection measure

Albany, NY – April 26, 2012 – Riverkeeper and Citizens Campaign for the Environment applaud the NY Assembly for passing the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act (A.9420A Sweeney / S. 6268A Grisanti) yesterday as part of the Assembly’s Earth Day agenda. The bill is also expected to be passed out of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee today. This act will require Public Wastewater Treatment Works to notify the public when raw or partially treated sewage is discharged into New York waters. The Senate needs to pass the bill, and Governor Cuomo must sign it, before it becomes law.

“Based on Riverkeeper’s water quality testing on the Hudson, we know that our waters frequently suffer from sewage contamination. New Yorkers need to be notified so that a trip to the beach doesn’t mean a trip to the Emergency Room,” said Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper. “We commend Assemblyman Sweeney, Senator Grisanti and the other members of the legislature for moving this act forward. It is a strong first step and we will continue to work with the legislature to strengthen our notification laws and increase public access to all available water quality data.”

“The days of swimming, fishing, and boating in sewage must come to an end in New York State. When it comes to harmful sewage pollution, ignorance is not bliss, it is dangerous,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We have closely followed the myriad of sewage releases into critical waterways from the Great Lakes to the Western Bays on Long Island. We applaud Assemblyman Sweeney and Senator Grisanti for their leadership in advancing this common sense legislation. We now urge the Senate to pass this important bill and the Governor to sign it in to law.”

Similar public notification laws already exist in more than a dozen other states. New York’s Sewage Right to Know law will require public notification within two hours of a sewage discharge. Notification will happen via local news outlets and the website of the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In addition, the DEC will produce a Publicly Owned Treatment Works Discharge Report each year that will report annual discharges and remedial responses taken.

“Discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage pose a significant health risk to people that are fishing or swimming in contaminated waterways,” said Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. “The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act will provide New Yorkers with prompt notification about sewage overflows, so that they can take precautions to avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful sewage pollution.”

“In the last three decades, we have made tremendous strides in improving water quality throughout the state, particularly with regard to the Hudson River. However, billions of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage are still discharged into public water supplies each year. The Sewage Right to Know bill will ensure that the public is informed when and where these discharges occur on an ongoing basis. This will significantly lower the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria and toxins, allowing New Yorkers to use our rivers and lakes safely,” added Senator Mark Grisanti.

Background on Sewage in our Waters

New York is the only state with ocean, estuarine and Great Lakes coastlines. Our beautiful waters are a major contributor to our local economies.

Human exposure to disease-causing pathogens contained in even small amounts of raw sewage can lead to short-term and chronic illnesses, especially for children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Despite the fact that waterborne illnesses are underreported, the number of documented illnesses resulting from swimming is on the rise nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 1.8 and 3.5 million Americans become ill annually from contact with sewage in recreational waters.

Federal funding for wastewater infrastructure has declined dramatically in recent decades. This lack of funding has contributed to a significant decline in the maintenance and upgrades of New York’s wastewater infrastructure. More than 600 wastewater treatment facilities in New York are operating beyond their life expectancy and many others are using outmoded and inadequate technology that results in the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into waters used by New Yorkers for recreation and, in some cases, drinking water. In addition, outdated combined sewer systems overflow raw sewage and stormwater into local waterways when it rains, adding additional billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our precious waterways each year.
Riverkeeper is a member-supported, watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. For more information, please visit

Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) is an 80,000 member, non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers communities and advocates solutions to protect public health and the natural environment in New York and Connecticut.