Brooklyn Boro

Environmental groups to sue EPA over unsafe waters in New York City

April 27, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Something smells fishy, and it’s more than just the pungent fumes coming from the Gowanus Canal.

A group of nine New York City and regional environmental organizations announced on Thursday that they are pursuing legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly failing to protect the health of people who swim, boat and fish in the city’s waterways and beyond.

The groups formally filed a “notice of intent to sue” on Thursday for the EPA failing to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The 1972 Clean Water Act is the principal federal law governing water pollution. It regulates the discharge of pollutants into the country’s waterways.

The act made water quality a federal responsibility rather than the onus falling on state and local governments.

The community and environmental organizations must wait 60 days before filing actual litigation documents with a court.

“Our first and largest concern here is that the EPA’s inaction allows New York state and New York City to use ‘unscientific’ and ‘indefensible’ water quality standards to pretend the public is protected when in fact they are not,” Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Sean Dixon told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“Remedying and modernizing the rules of the game is vital — to our communities that fish, swim and boat in these waterways, as well as the environment.”

Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization that calls itself “New York’s clean water advocate” and whose mission, according to its website, is “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries.”

The lawsuit specifically concerns standards that the state proposed for waters designated as “Class SD” and “Class I.”

The waterways in Brooklyn listed in the report include the East River, Coney Island Creek, Upper New York Bay, Lower New York Bay, Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, Erie Basin and Sheepshead Bay.

To see a full list of the waterways, go to dec.ny.gov/regulations/99693.html.

The organizations initiating legal action against EPA are Riverkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Sound (the bi-state initiative of Connecticut Fund for the Environment), Waterkeeper Alliance, NY/NJ Baykeeper, NYC Water Trail Association, Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, Bronx Center for Environmental Quality and the Newtown Creek Alliance.

A press release sent from the organizations states that New York currently uses outdated water quality standards that fail to protect New Yorkers and that the waters are contaminated numerous times a year with untreated sewage from combined sewage overflow (CSO).

When it rains, New York City’s sewer systems are flooded with storm water and raw sewage is subsequently sent into more than 400 locations along the coasts of the five boroughs. The Gowanus Canal is notorious for its CSO.

That sewage, according to the press release, can lead to intestinal illnesses, rashes and other infections.

The groups will request that a federal court order EPA to adopt modern standards that protect New Yorkers’ health, unless the state promptly does so on its own.

“EPA, the city and the state have all failed New Yorkers,” said Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program. “The Clean Water Act was created to protect our right to water that won’t make us sick when we drink or play in it.

“But it doesn’t do anyone any good if the EPA isn’t overseeing and enforcing those rules. More than 8 million New Yorkers are relying on the EPA to protect them.”

Chief of Public Outreach for EPA Region 2 Dave Kluesner told the Eagle that “the EPA does not comment on pending lawsuits.” 

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