Columbus, Ohio USA
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Sierra Club Lawsuit
Targets Rampant Sewage in Franklin County Streams

July 2011 Issue

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Mark Stivers

Franklin County is allowing its storm sewers to discharge human waste without providing warning to the public, putting the health of residents in jeopardy, and the Sierra Club filed a 60-day notice declaring its intent to sue Franklin County and 17 townships for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The suit will remedy illegal discharges of sewage from the county’s storm sewers, which are pervasive and rampant in all major Franklin County waterways, the majority resulting from failed home septic systems which the county has neglected address for decades.

These discharges contain alarmingly high fecal coliform levels, including Escherichia coli and fecal streptococci. The county has systematically documented this pollution for years but little has been done to address it. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) recently reviewed Franklin County’s compliance with its storm water permit and identified multiple violations, but the OEPA has yet to seek any penalties, thus prompting the Sierra Club’s action.

“Keeping sewage out of our streams is the most basic of government responsibilities. Although the seeds for this problem were sown years ago through accelerated development, it is not something that Franklin County can continue to ignore,” said Ben Wickizer of the Ohio Sierra Club. “Unfortunately, suing appears as the only viable option because of Franklin County’s persistent failure to eliminate these sewage discharges and the Franklin County Board of Health’s unwillingness to enforce its septic tank regulations.”

“Residents of Franklin County are having their health put at risk and their local waterways polluted,” said Sierra Club member, Pat Marida. “This is the water that we play in, swim in, fish in, bathe in, drink and is essential to our quality of life in Franklin County”.

There are hundreds of known discharge points in Franklin County’s sewers that are releasing dangerous pollutants into tributaries to the Scioto River, a drinking water source for many central Ohio communities, including Columbus. “These are the highest contaminant numbers that I have ever seen,” said Sierra Club member, Jeff Cox. “Some lab samples are thousands of times greater than regulatory health standards.” The county has also failed to adequately notify residents about the pollution, erect signs warning of discharge locations, or even maintain a reliable complaint tracking system.

The Sierra Club’s suit will seek a federal court injunction to impose an enforceable timetable for the county to eliminate the illegal discharges and require prompt compliance with all permit requirements. The Sierra Club will also ask the court to assess civil penalties for the Clean Water Act violations that have occurred over the past five years.

For more information on illegal sewage discharges and outfall pictures, visit



© 2011 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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