New York County to Pay $1 Million Under Agreement Reached With Federal, State Officials

The federal government and New York state have reached agreement with Suffolk County to settle a lawsuit alleging that Suffolk violated the pretreatment provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act at its wastewater treatment plants. Under the agreement, Suffolk will pay a penalty of $300,000 and fund a supplemental environmental project in the amount of $700,000.

The pretreatment provisions are designed to minimize discharge of toxic pollutants from industrial sources into the sewage collection system, which in turn leads to other waterways in the environment. Suffolk County owns and operates wastewater treatment plants which receive and treat wastewater from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. The wastewater treatment plants discharge pollutants to groundwater, the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the complaint filed on April 28, Suffolk failed to properly implement its Industrial Waste Pretreatment Program, as required under its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permits through its failure to:

  • Identify, locate and properly categorize its industrial users
  • Enforce pretreatment standards and issue adequate discharge certifications
  • Ensure compliance monitoring of its significant industrial users
  • Enforce and obtain remedies for noncompliance with pretreatment standards
  • Comply with the modification requirements for changes to its pretreatment program
  • Maintain adequate resources needed to carry out its pretreatment program
  • Comply with EPA's administrative order
  • Comply with New York state law concerning the SPDES program and permitting.

Under the consent judgment, lodged on April 28 in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., Suffolk County will fully implement and enforce the provisions of its Industrial Waste Pretreatment Program, as required in its SPDES permits. The consent judgment requires Suffolk to, among other things, conduct unannounced inspections of all significant industrial users and take unannounced samples of their wastewater discharge, take enforcement action to bring major facilities that discharge to the wastewater treatment system into compliance with applicable pretreatment standards and requirements, seek civil penalties for noncompliance, and maintain sufficient staffing and resources to carry out its pretreatment program.

The consent judgment requires Suffolk to pay a penalty and fund a supplemental environmental project to purchase privately owned land in the Core Preservation Area of the Central Long Island Pine Barrens for the purpose of protecting groundwater in Suffolk County's sole source aquifer from discharges of pollutants that may accompany development.

The violations alleged in the complaint do not pose an immediate threat to public health, EPA officials said. However, Suffolk's compliance with the requirements of the Industrial Waste Pretreatment Program and the SPDES Permits is essential to prevent pass through and interference with the wastewater treatment plants by minimizing the discharge of toxic pollutants from industrial sources into the sewage collection system and ultimately into other waterways. Suffolk voluntarily agreed to implement many requirements of this consent judgment prior to its submission to the court in order to comply with the law as quickly as possible and to demonstrate its good faith while other issues were being negotiated.

The proposed settlement will be published in the Federal Register (http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/index.html) for a 30-day public comment period and to become effective must be approved by the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York.

Additional information about the New York's State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System can be found at http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dcs/spdes/index.html.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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