Sewage Spills, Human Health, and Legal Accountability

For many, a life in Florida involves a mix of land and water, a lifestyle that includes an active engagement with our beautiful environment. Sadly, sometimes human involvement leads to environmental harm. Environmental problems can quickly become health problems. A key example of a problem that can have both environmental and health consequences is the danger of sewage spills flowing into our state's waterways.

Sewage Spill in Callaway Bayou is Only One Example of Greater Problem

Late last week, WMBB reported on a power outage at lift station #24 (note: lift stations move wastewater to a higher elevation) that resulted in the release of 750 gallons of untreated sewage. The sewage flowed out of a manhole on Sukoshi Drive in Callaway and eventually into the Callaway Bayou. Florida's Department of Health cautioned people against swimming in the affected parts of the Bayou, noting that sewage-contaminated water can house bacteria, parasites, and intestinal viruses.

Sadly, Florida is no stranger to sewage spills endangering our waterways. The countless examples include:

  • On March 1, 2014, WCTV reported on a spill in Valdosta, Georgia that led to warnings in North Florida. A waterways conservation association adds context, referencing at least 3 similar spills in 2013 and a larger spill in 2009, all impacting Florida waters.
  • On May 1, 2004, Northwest Florida Daily News reported on sewage spills sparked by flash flooding throughout our region. Lift stations, wells, and pumps were overwhelmed leading to "No Swimming" advisories in Okaloosa County.

Health Dangers Tied to Sewage Spills

American Rivers, a group dedicated to protecting our water and our waterways, provides an information sheet titled: "Health Risks of Sewage" and a more general page on Sewage Problems and Solutions. They note that upwards of 850 billion gallons of raw/untreated sewage flow into our waterways annually.

Sewage carries disease-causing pathogens that can taint both drinking and swimming waters, causing 7.1 million mild-to-moderate illnesses in the U.S. each year and 560,000 moderate-to-severe waterborne illnesses. The EPA also estimates that as many as 3.5 million people are sickened by swimming in contaminated waters made dangerous by sanitary sewer overflows. Concern is also growing about pharmaceuticals finding their way into the environment through the sewage system and causing hormonal and other health threats.

In the U.S., most waterborne illnesses are relatively brief. However, some sewage-linked illnesses have long-lasting consequences and can even cause death. The very young, the elderly, and those with prior immune deficiencies are particularly vulnerable. A notable outbreak involved the parasite cryptosporidium contaminating Milwaukee's drinking water in 1993, causing 403,000 illnesses and 70-100 deaths (most, if not all, deaths involved AIDS-afflicted individuals).

Fault, Liability, Damages

Sewage spills can be a result of severe weather overwhelming the system, but sewage spills can also be the result of the actions of an individual or corporate entity. The risk of human exposure can be elevated if an entity fails to notify health authorities when a leak or spill occurs. These decisions can be negligent at best (ex. a leak resulting from a company failing to inspect aging pipes) and intentional at worst (ex. a company opting not to report a spill because fear of bad press or economic consequences).

If you or a loved one has fallen seriously ill because of exposure to a sewage spill or toxic release, our law firm can help. A toxic tort claim or other form of civil lawsuit may allow you to recover economic compensation, money that can pay medical bills, replace lost wages, and compensate you/your loved one for pain and suffering. Call to schedule a free consultation.

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