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December 14, 2009

Baltimore tap water fares poorly in group's ranking


Baltimore finished in the bottom third in an environmental group's ranking of the 100 biggest US cities' tap water.

The city came in 69th in a drinking-water comparison by the Environmental Working Group -- ahead of places like Pittsburg and Houston but behind New York and Philadelphia, not to mention well behind Boston and Fairfax County, VA.

The Washington-based environmental group said Baltimore's water contained 24 different contaminants, according to city sampling reported to the EPA.  Fifteen of them showed up in testing at least once at levels that exceed various government health standards, the group said. Three exceeded federal safe drinking-water limits in at least one test from 2004 through 2008, according to the group. Two of the three are byproducts of the city's use of chlorine to disinfect water, but one - ntirites - could stem from fertilizer runoff, leaking septic tanks or natural conditions, the group says.

A single elevated test doesn't necessarily put a system out of compliance with EPA's limits, which apply to average levels found in testing throughout a year. But the Environmental Working Group expressed concern that more than 300 different contaminants are found in public drinking water systems, and pointed out that health guidelines have not been set for some of them. To read the group's report, go here.

A Baltimore city spokeswoman, Celeste Amato, said officials responsible for the local water system, which serves 1.6 million people in the metropolitan area, were surprised by the low rating.

"We just seem to be ranked very low given the high quality of our raw water supply, let alone our treated water,'' said Amato. The city draws its water from three reservoirs in Baltimore and Carroll counties - Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy -- with an emergency backup supply from the Susquehanna River.  The city tests its water more often than required, Amato noted, but she declined to discuss the specifics in the environmental group's report until city engineers could finish studying it.

The city's water has done better in previous comparisons. It ranked a much better 19th in a matchup done last year by SustainLane, for instance. As required by EPA, the city does post an annual report on its drinking water quality. You can read the latest one for 2008 here.

(2008 Baltimore Sun photo by Chiaki Kawajiri)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:30 AM | | Comments (8)


I was under the impression that Baltimore's water system was pretty good. I always read the report (which comes in your water bill once a year). Environmentally speaking, isn't all water contaminated to some degree? We're talking water here, not manna from heaven. I'll take the water running out of our faucets anyday over water from who knows where in a PLASTIC bottle. Yes, the source is labeled on the bottles but have always suspected a lot of it comes right of a faucet - this is the real world.....

Baltimore had GREAT water, illustrated by the large number of local breweries we've had through the years. Who knows what's gone down hill... maybe it has to do with the quality of water coming out of our decrepit water system and not the actual water...

Abel Wohlman must be spinning in his grave

TW: Baltimore's own Abel Wolman pioneered the chlorination process for disinfecting drinking water; a municipal building downtown bears his name.

Probably some of those old industrial sites are leaking into the water...

because of the old pipes in baltimore the city has to pump in more detergents and bleach to keep the water drinkable.. i have actually had towels and clothes fade and stain from the amount of bleach in the water.. when i turn on my faucets in the morning if i dont let them run for 5 minutes you can smell bleach.. if you dont have a water filter hooked up or you cant boil it first dont drink city water..

Our tap water is excellent at home - tastes great. At work (Owings Mills) which is also Baltimore CIty water, the water tastes horrible. Something is different between the two.

Saying baltimore water is bad based on 3 positives out of those 24 compounds in thousands of tests is meaningless. Those are not the most important pollutants or more importantly, water quality characteristics to look at. We should be far more concerned about variability of various water quality parameters at the points of use. For example, what about the redox potential of our water and its ability to redissolve lead scales built up in certain runs of old water mains or local supply lines? We should be more concerned with integrity of the systems and verifying that quite good water remains good all the way to everyones tap.

I just moved down here from Philadelphia and noticed the tap water – even when run through a Brita filter – has a very strong chlorine taste. Almost as if I was in a freshly treated pool and swallowed some by accident. Yuck.

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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