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64 House Members Urge EPA to Reconsider Sewage Proposal Potentially Harmful to Nation's Waterways

January 13, 2004
Press Release

Washington, D.C. --- 64 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter yesterday to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Leavitt urging he reconsider an agency proposal that would allow insufficiently treated sewage to be released into our nation's waterways during rainstorms. The EPA guidance, released in November, would only require waste treatment facilities to perform primary treatments of wastewater during wet weather that filter out solids, without further requirements for secondary treatment or disinfection.

In the bipartisan letter, initiated by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Clay Shaw, Jr. (R-FL), co-chairmen of Congressional Coastal Caucus, the members expressed their concern regarding the adverse public health and environmental effects the insufficiently treated sewage could have on coastal communities. (A COPY OF THE LETTER IS ATTACHED.)

"We see the repercussions of polluted water to health, livelihoods, and tourism anytime there is an accidental breach in sewage treatment facilities," the members wrote in their letter to EPA Administrator Leavitt. "This draft guidance would turn back the clock on clean water protections, and we urge the EPA to enforce and strengthen these protections, rather than consider actions that would increase the threat of waterborne illnesses and environmental degradation."

Water treatment facilities are required to pass wastewater through several filtering and treatment steps to remove dangerous pathogens, such as viruses and parasites. The EPA proposal would permit water treatment facilities to bypass secondary treatment units during rainstorms and combine filtered, but untreated, sewage with fully treated wastewater. This process, called "blending," would result in numerous viruses and parasites, such as Hepatitis A and Giardia, being released into waterways.

"Our nation is inarguably faced with the critical need for a huge financial investment in improved wastewater treatment infrastructure," the members wrote. "However, it is unacceptable to use the allowance of blended sewage during rain events as the band-aid to cover these infrastructure shortfallsAU."

The lawmakers wrote that there are accepted alternatives to bypassing the treatment process and in November of 2003, the EPA cited several such alternative measures in the Federal Register, including the construction of additional short-term storage facilities where the sewage is held until it can be fully treated.

"We find it disappointing that your agency has advocated a dangerous and environmentally harmful approach that threatens public health over these safer alternatives," the members continued. "We should not allow this sort of bypass nor should we accept blending as a replacement for full secondary treatment when feasible alternatives exist."

The comment period on the proposal closes February 9, after which the agency will review comments and make a final ruling on the proposal.