WASHINGTON – The city of Perth Amboy, N.J., has agreed to make major improvements in its combined sewer system to protect people’s health and water quality under a legal agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under the agreement, which was lodged by the Department of Justice in federal court today, the city will reduce the amount of sewage and other pollutants that flow out of 16 combined sewer points into the Raritan River and Arthur Kill. Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in the same pipe.
Perth Amboy violated the Clean Water Act and its New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection discharge permit by failing to properly maintain and operate its sewer system, conduct regular inspections and have a pollution prevention plan in place. The city also violated a previously issued EPA order to address Clean Water Act violations.
“This settlement will require vital investments in sewer infrastructure that will help the city of Perth Amboy achieve compliance with the nation’s Clean Water Act. More than 70 percent of these repairs will take place in and benefit lower-income areas of the city,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “This agreement will ensure that Perth Amboy’s combined sewer system is properly operated and maintained to minimize the number of untreated discharges to the Raritan River and the Arthur Kill.”
“Combined sewer overflows are a very serious public health and environmental problem in a number of New Jersey communities,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The improvements that Perth Amboy will make under the agreement with the EPA will improve water quality and protect community residents from exposure to raw sewage. Sewer upgrades made pursuant to this settlement are a long-term investment in public health and clean water.”
During periods of heavy rainfall or snow melt, the volume of wastewater in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or wastewater treatment plant. When this happens, combined sewer systems overflow and discharge sewage directly to nearby water bodies. These overflows can contain not only storm water, but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris. It is estimated that almost 370 million gallons of sewage flow into the Raritan River and Arthur Kill through Perth Amboy’s combined sewer system each year. Across New Jersey, 30 combined sewer systems discharge 23 billion gallons of sewage and other pollutants each year into all of New Jersey’s major water bodies.
Under the agreement, Perth Amboy will spend about $5.4 million for the repair, upgrade and expansion of the city's combined sewer system and will additionally pay a $17,000 penalty. The city has agreed to increase the amount of wastewater that reaches the treatment plant and reduce its combined sewer overflows into the Raritan River and Arthur Kill. In addition, under the agreement, Perth Amboy will conduct annual inspections of all of its combined sewer system control facilities and will develop and implement a combined sewer overflow pollution prevention plan.
In response to the EPA’s earlier enforcement efforts, Perth Amboy has already completed a thorough inspection and engineering assessment of its sewer system. As a result of that study, the city will develop a plan to fix problems identified and do further work to separate the pipes so that some pipes will only carry wastewater from buildings to the wastewater treatment plant instead of a combination of domestic wastewater and stormwater. Work already underway and work that will be conducted under today’s agreement will be completed by Dec. 31, 2016.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It can be viewed at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
For more information about the combined sewer overflow problem in New Jersey, visit www.epa.gov/region2/water/sewer-report-3-2011.pdf.
For more information about combined sewer overflow systems, visit http://estuaries.noaa.gov/Estuarylive/VideoGallery.aspx?ID=43.