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E-M:/ Sewage Blending Op-Eds

These appeared in yesterday’s Flint Journal:

EPA's proposed 'Blending Policy' will undo good work of Clean Water Act



And Lansing State Journal:

Mike Shriberg: EPA is blending a foul mess for Michigan waters
Sewage treatment proposal will pump waste into lakes

Mike Shriberg is Great Lakes Advocate for Public Interest Research Group of Michigan, based in Ann Arbor.

While raw sewage once openly flowed into our rivers and lakes, the Clean Water Act (1972) mandates the treatment of all human waste and resulted in major water quality improvements in the Great Lakes and all our waterways.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed "Blending Policy" - on which a final decision is expected in February - ignores the act and returns Michigan and the rest of the United States to the Third World strategy of releasing sewage without adequate treatment.

The EPA's proposed policy allows sewage to bypass biological and chemical treatment when it rains. This largely untreated sewage is "blended" with treated sewage. The EPA wants to legalize this process, which reverses the requirement for full treatment in all but extreme circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, as well as environmental and public health groups, oppose this policy.

Beyond the obvious foulness (we all want to believe that what goes down our toilets is fully treated), this policy has serious implications for our health and recreation. The bacteria, viruses, parasites, worms and other unspeakable things in sewage would wind up in our drinking water, on our beaches, and in the water we use for boating, fishing, etc.

Since Michigan's recreational economy revolves around water (Michigan anglers alone spend more than $800 million per year), it is threatened by blending.

Exposure to sewage makes millions of people sick every year - particularly children, the elderly and immune-impaired individuals. Michigan State University biologist Joan Rose determined, "(T)he risks associated with swimming in waters receiving the blended flows were ... 100 times greater than if the wastewater were fully treated."

The Great Lakes are particularly vulnerable to increased sewage. Already, Lake Michigan has more than 1,400 beach closings per year, and beaches along Lake St. Clair close several times each summer.

These closings occur despite the EPA's recently launched, highly publicized initiative to restore the Great Lakes. Clearly, the EPA is saying one thing, and doing another by legalizing sewage releases.

Proponents of this proposal (mainly sewage treatment plant operators) argue that it is the only cost-effective way of stopping basement backups and releases of completely untreated sewage.

In reality, blending is not only a bad policy for our health in the short-term, but it diverts critical funding from long-term solutions to sewage overflows, such as upgrading treatment plants and stopping rainwater from infiltrating sewer pipes.

The EPA is hoping that Michiganians do not notice this major, illegal shift in policy that would undermine 30 years of advancement in cleaning up Michigan's water. Public health officials, environmental groups, anglers, marina operators, and tens of thousands of citizens are urging the EPA to drop the blending policy.

It is time for more citizens and organizations as well as our elected officials (Michigan Congressmen Vern Ehlers and Peter Hoekstra sit on the House committee overseeing sewage treatment plants) to tell the EPA that releasing "blended" sewage is unacceptable. Michigan's water is too vital to our health, economy, recreation and core identity to accept this Third World solution to our increasing sewage problem.



Kate Madigan

PIRGIM Advocate

303 Abbott Street, Suite 205

East Lansing, MI 48823

Tel: 517-664-2600