New Jersey, as its residents surely know, has a bit of a reputation problem. People from other states driving through on the popular route I-95 are given a tour of the worst, most industrial parts of the state — past the Newark Airport right on through the Meadowlands.
This has led to lovely state nicknames such as the "armpit of America," that has state leaders and many New Jersey residents seething. It is very true that the state has absolutely beautiful, breathtaking scenery and it is simply unfortunate most passersby do not get to see that. However, what New Jerseyans probably don't want anybody to know is that the nicknames may end up being justified.
Just last week, the EPA released a report stating that "at more than 200 spots in New Jersey, outdated sewer systems
pour more than 23 billion gallons of raw sewage into water systems each year." Making things even worse, if people can't see the sewage, they can certainly smell it, according to Christopher Baxter at the Statehouse Bureau, referencing a spot on the Hackensack River where a rusty metal pipe juts out into the murky water. And as if it can't get any worse, the EPA also noted that residents are almost never told when sewage is flowing.
While large rainstorms, especially those of the past month, cause the sewers to surge and release larger amounts of raw sewage, even small rainfalls can cause a potentially toxic mixture of sewage to be released from the 200-plus pipes, the EPA says. Anyone who touches the dirty water is susceptible to a serious health risk.
The EPA releasing this report now is no coincidence. According to Baxter, the agency, "frustrated by the state's lack of progress, is pressuring the Christie administration to fix the long-standing problem, which the agency estimates could cost more than $8 billion." As if the federal pressure wasn't enough, environmentalists now also say they will soon take the state to court, "arguing the permit it issues that allows municipalities to dump the sewage violates the federal Clean Water Act," according to Baxter.
The State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has said it plans to unveil new rules in about six months requiring better public notification of flowing sewage and less expensive improvements, says Baxter. However, it will not as of yet require cities to implement long-term plans to fix the problem. Instead, it will ask towns and cities to re-study what changes they can afford.
From what it seems, this raw sewage leakage presents a serious potential health threat to many New Jersey residents. To allow the problem to continue while waiting for bureaucrats to determine "what they can afford" seems short-sighted and ill-advised. One thing we know now is that the federal EPA is getting impatient: the chief officer of the agency's clean water regulatory branch overseeing New Jersey, Jeffrey Gratz, said recently that "unless the state's next set of rules puts municipalities on a schedule to address the problem, the EPA will have a serious issue with it."