Organization works to fight industrial water pollution & restore watershed
Industrial storm water pollution can lead to severe environmental and public health issues. iWWD Editorial Director Neda Simeonova spoke with Tina Meyers, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper for Blue Water Baltimore, to learn about the organization’s efforts to restore and maintain the quality of Baltimore’s watershed.
Neda Simeonova: What is the mission of Blue Water Baltimore?
Tina Meyers: Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy and thriving communities. Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper is a program within Blue Water Baltimore that aims to hold polluters accountable and clean up our local waterways through the use of environmental laws and sound science.
Simeonova: What is Waterkeeper doing to help track industry compliance in the Baltimore Harbor?
Meyers: Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper responds to citizen reports of industrial pollution, and follows up with the responsible government agency to ensure that the pollution is abated and any illegal activity is enforced against. Blue Water Baltimore also has an Adopt-A-Stream program where we train citizen volunteers to visually monitor their local streams for pollution activities and then report those activities to the Waterkeeper and the applicable government agency. Lastly, the Waterkeeper strategically surveys different industrial classes in Baltimore for any violations of environmental laws and permits, and can refer those violations to the government or potentially bring a citizen enforcement action itself against the violator.
Simeonova: What type of industry pollution threatens the Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco River?
Meyers: Baltimore is obviously one of the main industrial centers in the state of Maryland, and therefore is fraught with current and historic industrial contamination from toxic pollutants such as chromium, PCBs, lead, arsenic, mercury, etc. Current and past industries such as steel plants, coal-fired power plants, chemical plants, slaughterhouses and scrapyards contribute these dangerous pollutants and often are located directly on the waterfront. These pollutants tend to accumulate in the harbor’s sediments and also in the bodies of fish and crabs, which are then consumed by many subsistence fisherman in low-income communities. Industrial pollution also includes pollutants such as nutrients, fecal bacteria and sediment, which all can lead to harmful algal blooms and fish kills in our waterways. Contact with many of these pollutants can lead to severe health issues, making industrial pollution a public health issue in addition to an environmental issue.
Simeonova: What recent industrial storm water pollution limits have been enforced in the Baltimore area? Why are these important?
Meyers: Recently, the Maryland Department of the Environment issued a draft state-wide permit for industrial storm water pollution that is meant to limit the amount of pollution carried by rain and snow melt from industrial properties into our streams and harbor. Including stringent and clearly defined requirements in this permit is imperative so that both the government and citizens can easily determine whether an industry is illegally discharging pollution into our waterways, and enforce against any illegal activity.
Simeonova: How is Blue Water Baltimore/Waterkeeper involving the community and gaining support to deal with these issues?
Meyers: Waterkeeper has a pollution reporting hotline (443.908.0696) that citizens can call to report pollution issues. We will then make sure that the appropriate government agency is notified and follow up to ensure that something is done about it. We also engage the public through e-mail action alerts that allow citizens to sign on to public comment letters and petitions asking our government agencies to get serious about addressing industrial water pollution in Baltimore. Citizens can sign up to be a member of Blue Water Baltimore to help support our efforts against industrial pollution and get involved in potential enforcement actions and can volunteer to be citizen watchdogs through the Adopt-A-Stream program.