Sierra Club, 36 West Gay Street Suite 314, Columbus
TEL:  461-0734 FAX:  461-0730
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 28, 2002
MARC CONTE, 614-461-0734
PAT MARIDA, 614-890-7865
SIERRA CLUB SUES CITY OF COLUMBUS OVER ILLEGAL RAW
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
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
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.
to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.