Sewage Spill "Right to Know" Petition

Sewage spills into a tributary of Dog River.

Update: 04/21/17 - State Denied Water Groups’ Petition, But Will Conduct Study to Improve Public Notification

we believe Citizens have a right to protect their own health...

That's why, alongside eight other conservation groups from across the state, we petitioned Alabama’s Environmental Management Commission to write regulations requiring sewage treatment facilities to notify the public when they are exposed to sewage spills and overflows (read the petition here).

We contend that you have a fundamental right to know when raw sewage threatens your safety while swimming, fishing, or paddling. This information can be used to protect yourself and your family from the serious consequences of sewage pollution.

Though public notification of sewage spills is already required, the vague language used means that oftentimes no one is aware the spill actually happened. According to Casi (kc) Callaway, executive director & baykeeper of Mobile Baykeeper, in many cases citizens are often unaware when spills occur. “Millions of gallons of sewage can spill into a local waterway, and unless citizens happen to follow the county health department page or tune into the nightly news at the right time, they are completely unaware of this threat to their health,” said Callaway. “It is critical to have a consistent notification process to ensure citizens can protect their health from sewage spills. That is the purpose of this petition.”

Our petition sought to require utilities to maintain a public notification plan, which simply details how the utility will notify the public when a spill happens. This will cause utilities to thoughtfully develop a written plan before a spill happens, so that when it does, following that plan will be simple.

Sewage spills from a manhole on the banks of Three Mile Creek near Tricentennial Park.

Sewer overflows pose a substantial public health threat to citizens.  According to the EPA Experts Workshop on Public Health Impacts of Sewer Overflows, “Sewer overflows are a human health issue because they can create the potential for exposure to disease-causing pathogens, including protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. Activities involving exposure to [sewage] contaminants through swimming or other contact can lead to infectious diseases such as hepatitis, gastrointestinal disorders, dysentery, and swimmer’s ear. Other forms of bacteria can cause typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. Human health also can be impacted from ingesting fish or shellfish contaminated by [sewage] discharges.”

In the meantime, concerned citizens should stay tuned to Mobile Baykeeper's mailing lists and social media accounts to be informed of sewage overflows. Also check out our Sewage Spill Explorer to understand more about the threat and see a map of where sewage spills occur.

The petition was filed by Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper.