Statement on Explosion and Fire at Back River WWTP
Blue Water Baltimore and Chesapeake Legal Alliance’s Statement on Explosion and Fire at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant
Baltimore, MD – Blue Water Baltimore and the Chesapeake Legal Alliance sincerely hope early reports that no one was injured in today’s explosion at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant prove true, and that the plant is able to resume all of its operations as soon as safely possible. Our organizations have been raising alarms for nearly two years about conditions at the Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants, which pose a threat not only to the environment and to nearby residents, but to the workers at the plants as well.
According to the Baltimore County Fire Department, the explosion and fire occurred in the Synagro building at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). This building is where solid waste is dried out for eventual use as fertilizer. Solids handling and processing has been noted as a potential safety hazard in Maryland Department of the Environment inspection reports at the WWTPs. For example, inspection reports in 2022 noted that the standard processing for sludge was on hold at the Patapsco WWTP due to concerns over fire and explosion hazards. Further, the Maryland Environmental Service comprehensive report in June 2022 noted that problems at the Back River WWTP caused a slowdown of solids handling due to Synagro’s concerns about its ability to process it safely within the guidelines of its fire suppression system.
Blue Water Baltimore and the Chesapeake Legal Alliance have been in negotiations for many months with Maryland Department of the Environment and Baltimore City in an effort to develop a consent decree to resolve ongoing Clean Water Act and state pollution control law violations at both WWTPs and strongly believe third party oversight is necessary at both plants. As we await word from authorities as to the cause of today’s explosion, this unfortunate event underscores the importance of developing and implementing a comprehensive plan quickly, including third party oversight to ensure that adequate operation, maintenance, and safety requirements are followed.
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.
Chesapeake Legal Alliance is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that applies the power of the law to protect and restore clean water and promote healthy, resilient ecosystems for communities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.