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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article is a news bulletin of March 28, 2002.

Sierra Club Sues City Of Columbus Over Illegal Raw Sewage Discharges


Sierra Club, 36 West Gay Street Suite 314, Columbus OH 43215
TEL: [614] 461-0734 FAX: [614] 461-0730

March 28, 2002 

MARC CONTE, 614-461-0734
PAT MARIDA, 614-890-7865

Environmental Group and Residents Join to Eliminate SSOs

COLUMBUS-Today, the Sierra Club filed a notice of intent to sue the City of Columbus over illegal raw sewage discharges from sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) to the Scioto River, the Olentangy River, and other area creeks and streams. The suit alleges that Columbus has for more than a decade illegally discharged raw sewage to these waterways through sanitary sewer overflows, causing serious water pollution and potentially endangering the health and safety of Columbus area residents.

Sanitary Sewer Overflows, or SSOs, are instances where raw, untreated sewage (combined with industrial effluents) spill from the sewage system through manholes, pump stations, breaks in sewer lines or from overflow valves. Since 1972, SSOs have been illegal, being a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The City of Columbus has at least 621 separate sewer system discharges, bypasses, reliefs, and overflows within the City. On a regular basis, the City tracks at least 120 of these 621 point sources as numbered sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). From 1997-2001, the City reported 26 illegal overflows from numbered SSOs, including 3 of its pump stations, and 138 illegal overflows from manholes and other point sources that were not assigned a number by the City. The City has also documented raw sewage backups on public and private property, which are violations of its federal NPDES permits and federal regulations under the Clean Water Act.. The federal courts can assess civil penalties of $25,000 per day for each day of overflow, from each SSO, for the past 5 years This alone could result in fines of over $4 million.
"The City of Columbus has been knowingly and illegally dumping raw sewage for more than a decade and, city officials have not taken the necessary steps to clean up our streams and rivers," said Pat Marida, chairperson of the Sierra Club Central Ohio Group. "In fact, Columbus has expanded their sewers, thereby causing more overflows, instead of correcting bad sewers. We need a 'Fix Sewers First' policy."

"As an example, before Columbus Public Utilities wastes $27 million on a Raw Water Line, which is opposed by the Friends of Big Walnut Creek because of the damage it would do to that creek--Columbus should Fix Sewers First. Before Columbus spends $27 million for the stated reason of protecting drinking water from a road spill, which type of contamination has never occurred in the state of Ohio, or anywhere else that the Sierra Club is aware of-Columbus should Fix Sewers First. Columbus must first stop creating an immediate health hazard for its citizens by allowing toxic sewage to back up into our basements and flow into our rivers."

"The public expects that city leaders will provide sufficient resources to keep the sewage collection and treatment systems working properly and keep the raw sewage where it belongs: inside the underground pipes," said Jeff Cox, former Columbus sewer inspector. "Environmental law breaking must not be tolerated decades after these laws were passed by the Congress and State Legislatures. It's time that city officials follow the law and not allow the contamination of our water resources."

Columbus homeowner, Nancy Heath, stated: "We have gotten raw sewage backups in the basement of our home as often as twice a year for over 20 years. We believe that these backups are due to failure of the City of Columbus to properly maintain the lines and to provide adequate capacity in the lines to handle all of its sewage and rainwater. We are fed up with the invasion of raw sewage, toilet paper and used condoms from the public sewers into our home. The time has come to remedy this situation. Columbus homeowners agree; 'fix it first'. Spend the money needed to fix the SSOs and sewer backups, now, before expanding new sewers into communities outside of the City."

In its legal action, the Sierra Club will seek a federal court order that provides a long-term solution to illegal SSOs, including an enforceable compliance schedule and definite funding commitments; a Citizen Oversight and Technical advisory committee to review SSO elimination plans; and payment of civil penalties for the past 5 years of SSO violations, in order to deter future violations.

Since 1972, it has been illegal to discharge untreated (raw) sewage from sanitary sewer overflows into the waters of the United States.
Thirty years after this conduct was first outlawed, Columbus still maintains hundreds of illegal sanitary sewer overflows.
According to the EPA, health risks associated with SSOs to our waters are exposure to bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Exposure to raw sewage can be more severe for children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Some SSOs can form puddles and muddy areas that can attract children or pets. Raw sewage may contain metals, synthetic chemicals, pesticides, and oils, which also can be detrimental to the health of humans and wildlife.

The lack of sewage carrying capacity in the City of Columbus system causes and contributes to the backup of sewage into residents' homes and yards.

Sierra Club, the nation's oldest grassroots conservation organization has 700,000 members nationwide. The Central Ohio Group has 4,000 members.

Index to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.


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