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Settlement Means Upgrades to Baltimore Drinking Water and Sewage Plants

Release Date: 9/29/1999
Contact Information: Bonnie J. Smith, (215) 814-5543 & Cristine Romano at DOJ, (202) 514-2007

Bonnie J. Smith, (215) 814-5543 & Cristine Romano at DOJ, (202) 514-2007

BALTIMORE - Federal and state officials today announced a proposed multi-million dollar settlement in a lawsuit against the City of Baltimore over water pollution violations at the city's Ashburton drinking water filtration plant and Patapsco wastewater (sewage) treatment plant.

In the proposed settlement, filed in federal district court in Baltimore today,
the city has agreed to improve operations at both plants, pay a $1 million penalty, and carry out three special environmental projects costing an estimated $2.5 million.

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and we will vigorously enforce clean water laws to protect it ,” said Lois J. Schiffer, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources at the U. S. Department of Justice. “This settlement shows that we are serious about preventing pollution in the bay.”

W. Michael McCabe EPA regional administrator said, “This settlement will bring about much needed improvements in Baltimore’s drinking water and sewage treatment facilities. This is a major step forward in protecting human health and the environment in the Baltimore area.”

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 1997, alleged that the Ashburton drinking water filtration plant chronically exceeded limits in its Clean Water Act permit for the discharge of chlorine (which is toxic to aquatic animals and plants), aluminum and suspended solids. The plant discharges treated wastewater into a tributary of Gwynns Falls, which flows to the Patapsco River and into the Chesapeake Bay.

The suit also alleged the Patapsco wastewater treatment plant, which discharges into the Patapsco River at Baltimore Harbor, has exceeded permit limits for the discharge of chlorine, total suspended solids, pH, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, phosphorus, and fecal coliform. The suit also alleged that the city failed to properly report its discharges to Maryland and federal authorities, as required by law.

“The importance of this settlement cannot be overstated. It reinforces the state, federal and local efforts to improve the water quality of the Baltimore area and restore the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Jane Nishida. “It also continues to support our efforts to protect Maryland’s water quality, which is central to the continued health of our people, our environment and our economy.”

In settling the lawsuit, the city has installed a new dechlorination system and removed solids from the Ashburton plant and replaced major parts of the Patapsco plant’s sewage treatment system.

The city has also agreed to take steps at both plants to prevent future violations.

“This enforcement action shows that everyone must abide by environmental laws, and that includes local governments. We are confident that, having reached this proposed settlement, the City, the State of Maryland and the federal government will forge a better partnership to address pollution prevention and abatement in Baltimore City,” said Lynne A. Battaglia, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

As a final part of the settlement, the city will also undertake three special projects at a cost of $2.5 million to protect public health and the environment. These will reduce non-point source pollution runoff from lawns and city streets.

Brooklyn Stormwater Management Project: The city will build a $1.3 million facility to capture and treat stormwater runoff from the Arundel Village section of Anne Arundel County. The project includes wetland plantings to absorb nitrogen and phosphorus runoff. This will reduce sediment pollution runoff by up to 75 percent from this section of the Patapsco River and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. The pond will be fenced, with a landscaped walkway around its perimeter.

A pollution control facility will be built where Gwynns Run and Gwynns Falls meet. The $600,000 Gwynns Run Pollution Control Project will include a two-pond holding system and almost two acres of wetlands. The project should remove or significantly reduce several pollutants in the runoff, including suspended solids, metals, oil and grease, nitrogen and phosphorus, thereby protecting the water quality of Gwynns Falls and the Patapsco River.

Gwynns Falls Debris Collection Project: The city has agreed to spend $600,000 to dispose of debris and trash that is washed or dumped into Gwynns Falls. This project will help to restore the aesthetic value and recreational uses of Gwynns Falls and the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.