Baltimore Sun

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)