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Fitchburg Settles with EPA for Wastewater Discharge Violations

Release Date: 08/29/2001
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, EPA Press Office (617-918-1013)

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it has settled a case against the city of Fitchburg for repeatedly violating its federal permit to operate a wastewater treatment plant by discharging wastewater during dry weather from the city's combined sewer collection system into the North Nashua River.

On a number of occasions prior to 2001, untreated wastewater from the city's combined sewer overflow regulators and discharge pipes flowed into the river during periods of dry weather. Although the exact volume of the discharges is not known, they lasted in duration anywhere from 30 minutes to three and a half hours. These discharges were reported to EPA by the city.

EPA in April proposed a penalty of $137,000 for these violations. In a compromise settlement, the city will pay a penalty of $65,000 and complete two supplemental environmental projects costing at least $44,000. The first will be an analysis of the impact the dry weather discharges from the combined sewer overflows had on the North Nashua River. The second requires the city to investigate, inventory and address pipes illicitly connected to the sewer collection system.

EPA expects that the city will have completed work to eliminate the dry weather overflows by the end of the year.

During periods of heavy rain, high water levels sometime result in discharges of untreated sewage from sewer systems into rivers and streams. But Fitchburg released untreated sewage into the river during dry weather. Overflows from sewer collection systems into rivers can present a significant threat to water quality, carrying viruses, bacteria and other biological pathogens as well as industrial wastes which may contain toxic materials especially in dry weather when water levels are lower.

"I believe the city now recognizes the significance that the discharge problems from the combined sewer overflows have had both on human health and the environment. The penalty is appropriate because the city knew for years it had a problem and did not stop it," said Ira Leighton, acting deputy regional administrator of EPA's New England office.

He added that controlling sewer discharges to rivers and waterways are very important because of their value to the surrounding communities. The North Nashua River is a Class B Waterway, meaning it must be clean enough for swimming, fishing and recreation.

"With the supplemental environmental projects the city has volunteered to do in this case, it is helping to ensure the clean future of the North Nashua River's environment for the people living in and around Fitchburg," Leighton said.

For more information about waterways and clean water, and wastewater discharge permits, visit this Web site: