West Virginia Town Sued for Violating Safe Drinking Water Act

The U.S. Department of Justice and the West Virginia Departments of Environmental Protection and Health and Human Resources have sued the town of Fort Gay, W. Va., to stop discharges of untreated sewage from pipes, manholes, and pumping stations into Mill Creek, a tributary of the Tug Fork River.

The complaint, filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state agencies, alleges the discharges pose a threat to human health because of potential contamination of the town’s drinking water. The complaint also alleges numerous violations of the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the West Virginia Water Pollution Control Act.

According to the government’s complaint, on numerous occasions since January 2007, Fort Gay discharged untreated sewage from several of its pumping stations into Mill Creek. The intake to the Fort Gay Water works, which provides water for the town, is located along the Tug Fork River less than a half-mile downstream from Mill Creek.

The complaint also alleges that the untreated sewage has flowed into residential yards, basements, streams, and the river; that Fort Gay has failed to take all reasonable steps to minimize or prevent any discharge; and that the town failed to comply with a 2003 EPA order to take actions to prevent these discharges. Overall, the complaint alleges that the town did not properly operate and maintain its sewage treatment system.

EPA notes that untreated sewage contains viruses and protozoa as well as other parasites. People coming in contact with these organisms can suffer adverse health effects ranging from minor ailments such as sore throats, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, to life-threatening illnesses such as cholera, dysentery, infectious hepatitis, and severe gastroenteritis. Children, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women are more at risk of illness, the agency adds.

The complaint seeks an injunction directing Fort Gay to eliminate or minimize the risk to human health posed by the discharge of raw sewage, and come into compliance with federal requirements and its state-issued pollution discharge permit. EPA says the town could be subject to financial penalties for the violations. Penalties are assessed based on the seriousness of the violations, the economic benefit from non-compliance, compliance history, the economic impact of the penalty, and other factors.

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