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City of Fitchburg

(Boston, Mass.- August 15, 2012) - Under the terms of a Consent Decree lodged in federal court, the City of Fitchburg, Mass. will pay a civil penalty of $141,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act. The City will also perform a Supplemental Environmental Project worth at least $100,000 and is implementing significant remedial measures to minimize future discharges of pollutants into the environment.

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Overview of City

The City of Fitchburg is a community of approximately 42,000 people, with its sewer system serving 39,000 people. It owns and operates a 12.4 million gallons per day advanced publicly owned treatment works (POTW) fed by its wastewater collection system incorporating about 130 miles of sewers; fourteen of these miles combine sanitary and storm water flows. 

This collection system transports influent to the facility, which then treats it and then discharges effluent to the Nashua River. The City’s permit allows it to discharge combined sewer overflows to the river and its tributaries so long as the discharges do not cause or contribute to the violation of water quality standards.

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Fitchburg violated both terms of its pollutant discharge permit and Section 301(a) of the Clean Water Act (“the Act). In particular, the City has since January 2005:

  • Violated its permit and the Act by discharging untreated sewage from its combined sewer overflow outfalls and consequently causing or contributing to violations of water quality standards in the Nashua River.  
  • Violated its permit and the Act by bypassing sewage treatment on days when there was no rain or snow melt and its treatment plant was capable of treating the diverted sewage.  
  • Violated its permit limits for BOD, percent removal of BOD, TSS, percent removal of TSS, pH, total residual chlorine, total phosphorus, total ammonia, total aluminum, total cadmium, total copper, total recoverable copper, total lead, and total recoverable lead.
  • Violated its permit by failing to inspect various sewage diversion structures to ensure that they are in good working order.
  • Violated the Act by discharging untreated or partially untreated sewage through point sources authorized by the permit.

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Injunctive Relief

The settlement requires Fitchburg to complete by 2015:

  • Specific combined sewer system projects to prevent overflows from significant parts of the collection system
  • Already identified operational improvements at its sewage treatment works
  • An evaluation of additional work needed to consistently meets its permit effluent limitations, and
  • The evaluation of its inflow and infiltration problems to eliminate public and private sources contributing to overflows, bypasses, and effluent limit violations.  

In a second phase of work, Fitchburg is to develop an overall wastewater management plan to enable compliance with the Clean Water Act on the shortest practicable schedule, but in no event later than 2030. It is expected that Fitchburg will spend over $100 million to implement the injunctive relief required by the consent decree.

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Pollutant Impacts

EPA estimates that implementing the proposed injunctive relief will result in an annual reduction of at least 2.3 million gallons of overflows entering waters of the United States, representing annual reductions of 1,663 pounds of biological oxygen demand (BOD), 1,547 pounds of total suspended solids (TSS), 571 pounds of ammonia, and five pounds of phosphorus. Further, addressing the permit effluent limitations at the treatment plant is expected to reduce BOD by 79,640 pounds annually and TSS by 108,467 pounds annually.

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Environmental Benefits

Reduction of the overflows will enhance the fishing and contact recreation opportunities in the Nashua River.

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Civil Penalty

Fitchburg will pay a civil penalty of $141,000, to be divided equally between the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Fitchburg will also undertake a Supplemental Environmental Project, valued at $200,000, to stabilize a stream bank and to control nonpoint source runoff to improve water quality in the Nashua River watershed.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged August 15, 2012, in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Michael Wagner 
Office of Environmental Stewardship
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02114 
(617) 918-1735
Michael Wagner (

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