The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kate Hornyan (202) 265-7337

Bid to Hike Sewage Content of New Jersey Rivers

Sewer Plants Ask Christie Administration to Relax Water Supply Protections


Wastewater treatment companies have asked the Christie administration
to allow more pollutants to be discharged into New Jersey's rivers and
streams. The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions,
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a coalition
of 17 other groups are opposing the proposed change in state Surface
Water Quality Standards.

In order to reduce the cost of treatment,
the wastewater facilities want to discharge effluent that exceeds the
human health criteria for nitrates and total dissolved solids provided
these standards are met at the point of intake for drinking water use.
In New Jersey, rivers are a supply source for major drinking water.

last thing New Jersey rivers need is more sewage," said Abbie Fair of
the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, which argues
that the plan would violate both the federal Clean Water Act and the
state Water Pollution Control Act. "It is unconscionable that the
wastewater authorities want to turn our waterways into pollution
treatment streams."

By extending the "mixing zone" where
pollutants exceed potable limits from the wastewater facility discharge
pipe to drinking water intake points, the proposal would make longer
stretches of receiving rivers and streams unsuitable for swimming,
fishing or wildlife survival. Moreover, with shrinking water supplies,
there may not be enough freshwater to dilute the treated sewage.

people realize that sewer plants and industries discharge partially
treated wastewater short distances upstream from water supply intakes.
In summer when rainfall is low, 100% of the flow of the Passaic River is
treated sewage water - there is no clean water left to dilute the
outflow," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. "My concern is
that this proposal may have already been secretly green-lighted by the
Christie administration under the guise of regulatory relief."

water quality standards are set to protect those drinking water
supplies and limit the amount of dilution allowable in setting permit
limits. However, current lax individual facility permit limits have
caused ambient river water quality levels of nitrate to approach the
drinking water limit. This is a critical problem because there is no
treatment to remove nitrates from source water. High pollution levels
also hamper the refilling of depleted reservoirs with pumped river
water, exacerbating drought shortfalls.

Nitrates are known to
cause "blue baby syndrome", which can be fatal. Cumulative discharge of
nitrates also has significant downstream ecological effects on bays,
estuaries and the ocean, contributing to excessive eutrophication and
oxygen free "dead zones". Besides nitrates and dissolved solids, the
proposal will also increase the amount of pesticides and other chemicals
as well as un-metabolized pharmaceuticals, none of which are screened
out of treated wastewater.

Under the state Administrative
Procedures Act, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
has 60 days from its July 19 publication in the New Jersey Register to
grant, deny or seek an additional 30-day extension to render a decision
on this wastewater petition.

Even if approved by DEP, the relaxed
standards would be subject to review by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency for compliance with federal clean water standards. In
addition, EPA has announced that it is considering nitrate as a
potential candidate for a new health effects assessment due to concerns
that ingested nitrate or nitrite can be carcinogenic to humans. Any
reassessment would likely result in tighter nitrate limits that would
cost water treatment plants far more than any savings they could hope to
achieve by this proposal.

Read the coalition letter

View the rulemaking petition

Look at the pre-existing weakness of state water quality standards

See 2009 NJ plan to control nutrients

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.