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May 14, 2010

Baltimore left out of Bay cleanup deal?

The "historic" cleanup settlement that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced earlier this week with the Environmental Protection Agency covers a lot of ground.  It commits the federal government to deal with a host of ills fouling the estuary's waters, including urban, suburban and farm runoff and the fallout from vehicle exhaust and power plants.  The deal even obligates the EPA to address chemical contaminants in the 64,000-square-mile bay watershed, something the feds haven't exactly been eager to do over the years.

The 27-page settlement further says that in tackling toxic pollution, the government will "maintain a particular focus" on the Elizabeth River in Hampton Roads and on the Anacostia River in the Washington area. Those were long ago identified as "Regions of Concern" in the Chesapeake, because decades of shipbuilding, manufacturing and other industrial activity have left hazardous metals and other chemicals in the bottom, posing health risks to fish, wildlife and even people.

But for some reason, the settlement didn't mention the third "Region of Concern" long acknowledged in the bay -- the lower Patapsco River, aka Baltimore Harbor. Its bottom sediment also is laced with contaminants from long-gone factories and shipyards.

And the bay foundation itself contends toxic pollution is still getting into the waters surrounding Sparrows Point - it's threatened to sue Severstal, the owner of the steel mill there.  CBF senior scientist dredged up some foul-smelling black muck from waters near the plant (seen at right, in background) to show reporters.

"We haven't changed our areas of concern," J. Charles Fox, EPA's senior advisor on the bay and Anacostia River, said this week when asked. He said the settlement language on toxic pollution was drafted by the bay foundation.

Jon Mueller, the environmental group's vice president for litigation, was at a loss to explain why Baltimore wasn't mentioned. He noted that EPA originally didn't want to agree to do anything about toxic pollution at all, which nearly scuttled the settlement talks.

"It's certainly not off our radar screen, and I would doubt it's off EPA," Mueller said.

Let's hope not. The Anacostia and Elizabeth rivers have both been getting a fair amount of government attention lately, with the development of an ambitious watershed restoration plan for the DC-area river and dredging of toxic "goo" in Hampton Roads. Nothing like that seems to be happening around here - could that be why Baltimore got overlooked this week?

(Baltimore Sun photos: Inner Harbor by Amy Davis and Sparrows Point by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 12:00 PM | | Comments (1)


I guess the CBF really doesn't love The Bay as much as we thought. I once made a monetary contribution to them and received their e-mail updates. What a waste! They are supposed to help improve the health of the bay's watershed, not selected patches of such. I'm smelling elitism here. My recommendation to everyone is to stop supporting the CBF, do the research and contribute to a non-profit that truly cares about the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco River INCLUDED!

After reading this entry, I immediately cancelled my CBF e-news subscription. Thanks for the heads-up, Tim. I'm glad someone cares enough to expose the hypocrisy. Keep up the great work.

TW: I don't know that it's hypocrisy so much as an embarrassing oversight. CBF has been pressing the state and federal governments to do something about Sparrows Point, and the Patapsco did at least get a mention in the Obama administration's new strategy for jump-starting the bay restoration. But the settlement glitch may stem from the fact that there's been so little official focus on cleaning up Baltimore Harbor and Patapsco River lately that they're easy to overlook. BTW, the Patapsco and Back rivers earned an "F" for the second straight year on the annual bay health report card issued by the University of Maryland Center for Science.

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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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