Billions of Gallons of Sewage in Lake Erie: Ohio Trails the Great Lakes States in Public Notification 601

Billions of Gallons of Sewage in Lake Erie: Ohio Trails the Great Lakes States in Public Notification 601

By Amy Gomberg, Ohio Public Interest Research Group and Ohio PIRG Education Fund

Ohioans deserve clean water that is safe for fishing, boating and swimming. Unfortunately, billions of gallons of untreated sewage are being dumped into Ohio’s waterways, including Lake Erie, every year.

And the worst part is, Ohioans are being kept in the dark. While states like Indiana and Michigan have engaged in statewide efforts to educate the public about sewage contamination, Ohio has not.

More than 2 Billion Toilets Flush into Lake Erie
With the support of the George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, and the Healing Our Waters Coalition, Ohio PIRG researched the extent of the sewage dumping problem in Ohio’s Lake Erie Watershed Basin. The report “Sewage Overflow: Billions of gallons of Sewage contaminate Lake Erie” reveals that during 2004, Lake Erie and its tributaries were flooded with more than 8.9 billion gallons of untreated sewage.

“This is equivalent to more than 2 billion toilets flushing into Lake Erie’s waterways,” stated Erin Bowser, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group’s State Director. “And there are many more billions of gallons of inadequately treated sewage being dumped into our waterways in Columbus, Cincinnati, and throughout the state.”

Untreated sewage contains disease-causing pathogens including E. coli, Hepatitis A, and Giardia. Sewage overflows are a major source of beach advisories, wildlife destruction, and human health problems, and are a likely contributor to Lake Erie’s dead zones.

In a recent study done by the United States Geological Survey many pathogens, including Hepatitis A, were discovered in the Cuyahoga River. The study traced many of the viruses and bacteria to discharges from the Akron, Ohio wastewater treatment utility. These pathogens can cause dangerous gastrointestinal diseases, and in some cases can even lead to death. Anyone who comes into contact with water that is contaminated with sewage is putting their health at risk. The Ohio Department of Health advises that anyone who swims in Lake Erie should wait at least 24 hours after a heavy rainfall before swimming, keep their head and face out of the water, not swallow the water, and shower after swimming.

Ohioans Deserve the Right to Know
The Clean Water Act calls on states to develop a notification system to alert the public when untreated sewage enters our waterways. Unfortunately, Ohio does not require sewage treatment facilities to report to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency or to the public when they are dumping sewage into the waterways.

“Compared to the other Great Lakes states, Ohio comes in dead last” comments Bowser on sewage dumping public notification systems. “Sewage dumping is an underground problem in Ohio, and we are in desperate need of a statewide system to keep track of the problem and warn the public when their health is at risk.”

Representative Oelslager of Canton and Ohio PIRG have worked together to build momentum in the Ohio legislature to protect the health of Ohioan’s from sewage pollution. Using legislation from Michigan and Indiana, and with the input from other statewide and national organizations including Friends of the Crooked River, the Sierra Club, American Rivers, National Resources Defense Council, PIRG in Michigan, and Ohio PIRG developed legislation that will:

  • Protect the health of Ohioans from sewage pollution,
  • Notify the public, the Department of Health, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the media, when untreated sewage is dumped into our waterways, and
  • Require the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to record and track when utilities are dumping untreated sewage into our waterways.

Ohioans deserve clean water, and the right to know when our waterways have been polluted with untreated sewage. Ohio should follow the lead of states like Indiana and Michigan and pass sewage pollution public notification legislation.

For more information:
Amy Gomberg, Environmental Associate
Ohio Public Interest Research Group and Ohio PIRG Education Fund
36 W. Gay St. Suite 315, Columbus, OH 43215
PH: (614) 460-8732
E-mail: • Website:



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