‘Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act’ Passes

Bill would allow the public to know if untreated sewage has discharged into waterways
June 22, 2012
In an effort to keep Nassau County families safe from water pollutants, Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Nassau County) announced the Assembly passed legislation he sponsored that would establish the “Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act” (A.10585). This bill would provide immediate public notice when discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage enter local water sources. This legislation passed also the Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.

“Families need to know that the water they are swimming or fishing in is not going to pose a health risk,” Assemblyman Weisenberg said. “Currently, there is no way for a family to know if water is polluted unless the county health department has closed a beach.”

State law currently requires certain notification about sewage discharge in a local water source to be reported to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). This measure would modify the reporting requirement to include local health departments and local media. In addition, this legislation would require 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.

“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. Exposure to even a small amount of untreated sewage can cause serious illness and can lead to chronic diseases.” Assemblyman Weisenberg 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.” Assemblyman Weisenberg said

Assemblyman Weisenberg has long fought to help keep Nassau County’s water clean. In 2010, based on constituent concerns, he filed a formal record request with the DEC for records on untreated and partially treated sewage discharges. “Untreated and partially-treated sewage discharges are quite common, and the public has a right to know as soon as they occur,” added Assemblyman Weisenberg.

In addition, Assemblyman Weisenberg has successfully fought for funds to study cleaning up Reynolds Channel and the Western Bays. In 2010, he fought for $600,000 for Stony Brook University to study the impacts of pollution on the Western Bays. This year, the Assemblyman was able to obtain an additional $300,000 to allow the DEC to develop solutions to reduce pollution going into the bays.