Public Interest Research Group in Michigan
For Immediate Release Contact: Mike Shriberg, (734) 662-6597
May 26, 2005 cell: (734) 904-7015
Michigan Ranks First in Great Lakes in Informing Public about Sewage Dumping,
New Report Finds
As the swimming and boating season begins around the Great Lakes this Memorial Day weekend, a new report finds that most Great Lakes residents are not being told when hazardous sewage is being dumped into local waterways. Sewage Warning! What the Public Doesn’t Know about Sewage Dumping in the Great Lakes – released today by PIRGIM – assesses public notification about sewage dumping around the Great Lakes. The report finds that Michigan ranks first in providing this critical public health information to its residents while other Great Lakes states lag far behind.
“In many ways, Michigan represents the model program in the region by providing direct public notification of this major health risk. Michigan’s system of providing real-time, online information about sewage dumping should be emulated by the rest of the Great Lakes states,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes Advocate with PIRGIM.
Sewage Warning! analyzes, ranks and grades the dumping right-to-know programs of Great Lakes states:
Michigan (A-): Best overall law, although implementation needs to be improved.
Indiana (B+): A model for direct public notification, but misses some types of dumping.
New York (B-): Some strong requirements, but significant loopholes.
Minnesota (C+): Notification system needs to be more systematic and coordinated.
Pennsylvania (C-): Notification is not comprehensive and does not reach public directly.
Illinois (C-): Scattered approach needs to be strengthened and institutionalized.
Wisconsin (D+): Vague rule needs to be expanded, clarified and codified.
Ohio (D-): No significant statewide public notification program exists.
“Most Great Lakes states are failing to make the grade when it comes to notifying the public about sewage discharges,” said Laurel O'Sullivan, Great Lakes Coordinator with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Right now many people have no way of knowing if their neighborhood stream is filled with sewage pollution. Likewise, they are finding out about beach closings too late, only after they've already traveled to the beach.”
State environmental agencies are frequently to blame for these breakings of public trust because they are empowered yet often do not enforce public notification and right-to-know provisions. State Legislatures can remedy this situation, but typically fail to, thus leaving citizens wide open to exposure to sewage. “The Great Lakes are interconnected and all states should be doing their part to inform the public about sewage dumping into this fragile ecosystem,” said Shriberg.
PIRGIM is calling on all Great Lakes states to catch-up to Michigan by requiring full, immediate public notification every time public health is threatened by sewage dumping. This notification should be available via a website, phone hotline and “opt-in” e-mail system. Moreover, each state should compile an annual report listing all sewage dumpings in the state and each wastewater treatment plant should have a public education and reporting program.
Michigan earned the highest grade by implementing most of these measures. However, Michigan does not currently have a phone hotline or e-mail notification system for sewage dumping, and does not require public annual reports from each wastewater treatment plant (although a current bill in the Michigan Senate would change this). PIRGIM is calling on Michigan to make these and other changes to solidify our position at the head of the Great Lakes states and protect Michigan’s citizens from hazardous sewage.
While notification is important to protect citizens from sewage dumping, the only way to fully protect public health is to stop releases of raw or partially untreated sewage. Sewage Warning! exposes the fact that over 30 years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. is still dumping over 850 billion gallons per year of untreated sewage into our rivers and lakes. Millions of people get sick each year from swimming, fishing and boating in areas after raw or partially treated sewage is released.
To stop sewage dumping, communities need to enact comprehensive solutions that prevent stormwater from entering sewage systems, governments need to provide more funding for sewage infrastructure, and environmental agencies need to enforce current laws. “Preventing sewage dumping is not a technological issue, but rather it is an issue of political will, citizen activation, funding and creative thinking. We know exactly how to stop sewage dumping,” said Shriberg.
One promising development is the recent creation of the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition and the EPA-led Great Lakes Regional Collaborative. Both efforts are in the process of creating a fundable plan to restore the Great Lakes, including the “virtual elimination” of sewage dumping.
“Standing up for Great Lakes’ water not only means cleaner lakes and rivers, it also means standing up for our recreational tourism and fishing industries as well as our health. All Great Lakes states need to prevent sewage dumping to protect the health and well-being of our shared natural resource,” said Shriberg.
Full copies of the report are available by request or at www.pirgim.org.