State Sues Yonkers Over Sewage Discharge

Attorney General Spitzer, on behalf of New York State, today sued the City of Yonkers over repeated discharges of raw sewage into the Bronx River.

An investigation revealed that since 1999 the City of Yonkers has illegally discharged thousands of gallons per day of untreated sewage into the Bronx River from at least four pipes owned and operated by the city. Laboratory results have shown that the pollution contains the bacteria fecal coliform, an indicator of raw sewage, in concentrations as high as 250 times more than allowed by New York State water quality standards.

"Local governments have a legal responsibility to control sewage discharges into our waterways," said Spitzer. "The City of Yonkers understands this responsibility but has been unwilling to correct the problem and we are now seeking a court order to ensure that this matter is properly addressed."

The complaint, filed today in State Supreme Court in Westchester County, alleges that the city has violated state environmental laws and has created a public nuisance. Spitzer is seeking an order to compel Yonkers to stop its illegal discharges.

The illegal discharges come from pipes carrying human waste that are improperly connected to storm drains that empty into the Bronx River. The pipes should be directly connected to the city's sanitary sewers, which lead to a sewage treatment plant. Yonkers owns and operates 28 additional storm drains along an eight-mile stretch of the Bronx River. An investigation isunderway to determine if any of these drains are also discharging untreated sewage into the river.

These sewage discharges contribute to high levels of bacterial contamination in the southern stretches of the Bronx River, where children swim in the summer months. Bacterial contamination can cause gastrointestinal illness, hepatitis, skin and eye infections, and other illnesses in people having contact with the water. Sewage also damages the habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.

State water quality standards establish 200 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters of water as the acceptable limit in the Bronx River. However, levels as high as 50,000 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters have been measured in the discharges by Yonkers into the Bronx River.

The City of Yonkers has been on notice for some time that it has been illegally discharging raw sewage into the Bronx River. However, the city has failed to acknowledge responsibility for the discharges and has rebuffed repeated efforts by state environmental officials and the Attorney General'sOffice to resolve the issue cooperatively.

This is the third enforcement action brought as part of the Attorney General's Office Bronx River Watershed enforcement initiative. The initiative began in 1998 to hold polluters accountable for fouling the Bronx River and to compel them to eliminate or reduce their pollution discharges. The Attorney General's Office has entered into settlements with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo, and with the New York Botanical Garden, requiring these entities to correct their longstanding pollution of the Bronx River and to take additional measures to improve the river's ecology and the public's use and enjoyment of the river. Other investigations are pending.

The Bronx River begins at Davis Brook in Valhalla and runs 24 miles before flowing into the East River at Hunt's Point in the Bronx.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Philip Bein and Environmental Scientist Patricia Primi.

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