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Baltimore’s Waterways Will Not Be a Dumping Ground for Toxic Contamination

Advocates push back against an EPA mandate to accept East Palestine, OH wastewater

March 25, 2023

Baltimore, MD – Blue Water Baltimore, home of the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, rejects the mandate from the U.S. EPA that toxic contamination and carcinogens will pass through our City and flow into the Back River from an environmental disaster site hundreds of miles away. Local communities are distraught by EPA’s decision to have Clean Harbors and Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) treat polluted wastewater from the East Palestine environmental disaster site, which will ultimately be discharged into the Back River. While we stand in solidarity with the residents of East Palestine and feel that no community should be sacrificed, we also stand firm that the Back River is not a dumping ground for toxic contaminants and carcinogens.

Friday’s announcement about EPA’s decision has left us with more questions than answers. We are gravely concerned about how this wastewater will be transported from Ohio to Baltimore, and local residents need assurances that none of this toxic wastewater will spill into our precious streams, rivers, or communities, and regulatory agencies must provide detailed plans about how this will be accomplished safely, given the nature of the Norfolk Southern Railroad derailment that caused the spill, fire, and water contamination in the first place.

Blue Water Baltimore questions why Clean Harbors and the Back River WWTP were selected for this task. There are multiple other private businesses and municipal wastewater treatment plants available, yet facilities located in the Baltimore region were selected. The area surrounding Clean Harbors already suffers environmental injustices related to lead paint exposure, air toxics and cancer risk, hazardous waste proximity, and more. It is unclear why the U.S. EPA chose this already-overburdened community to accept even more toxic contamination, and we demand to know why they believe it is appropriate to send the toxic waste that is too dangerous for East Palestine to the shores of Baltimore. The Back River WWTP just experienced an explosion and fire at the Synagro pelletizing facility on-site that is critical for the WWTP to properly manage its processed biosolids, so it is entirely inappropriate to further stress-test this facility by adding even more toxic contaminants to the waste-stream from wastewater produced outside of the watershed.

If this wastewater is brought to Maryland, Blue Water Baltimore demands to know specifically what tests will be performed to determine what toxic contaminants and carcinogens are present. At a minimum, the wastewater must be comprehensively tested for Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons; Benzene, Toluene, Ethylene, and Xylene; Vinyl Chloride; Acrylates; Glycol; a full suite of Volatile and Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds; PCBs; and dioxin, among others. Regulatory agencies must perform this testing and the results must be made public. Additionally, the same suite of testing must be performed after treatment at Clean Harbors, before the treated wastewater is sent into the sanitary sewer system, to the Back River WWTP, and ultimately into the Back River where people routinely fish, boat, and swim in the water.

If EPA’s mandate is brought to fruition, Blue Water Baltimore demands to know what federal resources will be provided to Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and the State of Maryland to accept and treat this dangerous, toxic wastewater. Baltimore-region ratepayers will not shoulder the ecological, public health, and economic burden of this additional toxic waste caused by a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Blue Water Baltimore looks forward to a robust conversation on this issue replete with public input opportunities and answers to the myriad questions that have arisen as a result of this announcement. 


Blue Water Baltimore, home of the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit watershed organization with a mission to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams, and Harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy, and thriving communities.

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