About Us - Background And History
Just over 100 years ago, the waterways in the tri-state New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area were in deplorable condition. Water quality was at an extreme low due to industrial pollution and raw sewage. The world's most productive oyster and clam beds were condemned, finfish stocks were depleted and tasted like “oil,” health agencies were inundated with patients suffering from dozens of different types of waterborne diseases from using recreational waters — many never to reopen to this date — and the air was clogged with coal dust. This was a time when interstate conflicts arose regarding the sanitary conditions of the waters surrounding and shared by the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

In the 1920s, the Tri-State Treaty Commission recommended the establishment of a body to control and abate water pollution. Following their recommendation, the Tri-State Compact establishing the Interstate Sanitation District and the Interstate Sanitation Commission was enacted in 1936, with the consent of Congress. The Interstate Sanitation Commission initially consisted of the states of New York and New Jersey. The state of Connecticut joined the Commission in 1941.  Right: Raw sewage plume (grayish matter) in East River at its confluence with Harlem River, c. 1947 (photo from IEC archives)
 While many changes have taken place in the fields of pollution control since the Commission's formation in 1936, and the word "sanitation" has taken on a different connotation today than back then, the name of the Interstate Sanitation Commission remained unchanged until 2000. On October 27, 2000, the president of the United States signed the federal legislation — the last step in the process — changing the name of this agency from the Interstate Sanitation Commission (ISC) to the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC). The name change not only brings the Commission into the twenty-first century, it more accurately reflects the nature of the Commission's mandates, mission, and responsibilities that embrace a broad range of programs and activities.
Bathing activities at Coney Island beach, c. 1938
(photo from IEC archives)

Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the Commission issued enforcement orders for wastewater treatment plant construction that were to be the foundation for many municipalities' current infrastructure. In the late 1950s, the Commission published its Smoke and Air Pollution report and a supplement identifying problems regarding interstate air pollution. As a result of that information, in April 1970, after passage of supplemental statutes in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the Commission was designated as the coordinating agency for the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut Air Quality Control Region under the federal Air Quality Act. The Clean Water Act, established in 1972, 36 years following the Commission’s founding, requires from point sources that discharge pollutants to surface waters to obtain a permit from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). As part of NPDES permit requirements, all facilities discharging into the Interstate Environmental District must comply with the Commission’s regulations and standards. The Commission’s water quality standards have been revised periodically in order to reflect the most recent scientific and technologic information dealing with water quality, living marine resources, and the best-intended uses of the waters.

The Interstate Environmental Commission is gratified to report that its programs and activities throughout the years resulted in great improvements in water quality. However, the tri-state region still faces problems—some of which are local, and some more far-reaching. Hypoxia, sediment contamination, pathogens, habitat loss, combined sewer overflows (CSOs), municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), atmospheric deposition, invasive species, global warming, impacts on living marine resources, land use issues and public education have all been identified as priority areas of concern. The Commission continues to be active in building and/or reinforcing lines of communication with the US Environmental Protection Agency and its three member States’ environmental and health departments to address every environmental deficiency in the tri-state region.

Clason Point Park on Upper East River, Bronx, NY, c. 1910 (photo from IEC archives)

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Copyright 2015 Interstate Environmental Commission