Right-to-Know of Combined Sewer Overflows: Soon-to-be-Mandated in Indiana

Right-to-Know of Combined Sewer Overflows: Soon-to-be-Mandated in Indiana

by Tom Neltner, Improving Kids’ Environment

EPA only made it a recommendation. Indiana will make it a mandate. By the summer of 2002, Indiana residents will be told whenever a combined sewer overflows into their streams, lakes, and rivers.

Many Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) communities object to this requirement saying that residents should already know that there is sewage in their streams when it rains, or that the notice will unnecessarily scare the community.

So why is it so important?

1. Parents who are notified will be able to take steps to keep their children and their pets away from the stream or other water body. While we talk in terms of E. coli. counts, E. coli. is only a surrogate for a broad array of diseases including shigellosis, Hepatitis A, and cryptosporidiosis. Children are especially susceptible to harm from these diseases.

2. The veil of ignorance that pervades the CSO issue will be removed. Many cities still do not know how often a CSO discharges and how much overflows. When the public gets timely and effective notice of each event and not abstract end-of-year estimates, they will make their objection known. They will expect tangible and significant progress.

In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly required that Indiana’s “water pollution control board . . . shall adopt a rule before September 1, 2001, establishing requirements for community notification by NPDES permit holders of the potential health impact of combined sewer overflows whenever information from any reliable source indicates that: (1) a discharge or discharges from one or more combined sewer overflow points is occurring; or (2) there is a reasonable likelihood that a discharge or discharges from one or more combined sewer overflow points will occur within the next 24 hours.”

Despite the mandate, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has dropped the ball in developing the rules. It started the first of four steps in Indiana’s rulemaking process quickly – publishing the request for comment on July 1, 2000. Then it languished, losing out to other priorities. While acknowledging that it will miss the September 1, 2001 deadline, IDEM has committed to publishing a draft rule (the second step) by that date. If things progress smoothly, the rule should be final by June 2002.

Thanks to a grant from the GLAHNF, Improving Kids’ Environment has taken a lead on ensuring that this regulation is adopted and that it is effective. You can reach IKE by contacting Tom Neltner at 317-442-3973 or neltner@in.net or check out IKE’s webpage at www.ikecoalition.org.

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