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Baltimore sewage woes represent a public health crisis | READER COMMENTARY

Blue Water Baltimore's David Flores collects murky water from Gwynns Run in Southwest Baltimore to check for indications of sewage contamination.
Blue Water Baltimore's David Flores collects murky water from Gwynns Run in Southwest Baltimore to check for indications of sewage contamination. (Amy Davis, 2011)

Marccus D. Hendricks raises important questions and concerns about coronavirus and sewage infrastructure in his commentary, “Is coronavirus hiding in your sewage system?” (July 6). As Mr. Hendricks outlines, our underground infrastructure is old and leaky with cracks in the pipes causing raw sewage to seep into our streams and back up into residents’ homes. With the possibility of coronavirus being transmitted through sewage, these backups are more dangerous now than ever before.

When a sewage backup occurs, residents are forced to either utilize their homeowners insurance (and risk getting dropped for repeat claims), pay out-of-pocket for a licensed company to clean up the sewage (costs can be in excess of $10,000), or do what so many have done before: clean it up themselves.

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Baltimore operates an Expedited Reimbursement Program to help cover cleanup costs for residents who have experienced capacity-related sewage backups into their homes. But there are major flaws in the design and administration of the program. In the first year of the pilot program, only 74 of the 4,500-plus reported backups sought financial relief and only ten claims were partially or fully approved. Most people have no idea the program even exists.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, we are being implored to stand six feet apart, refrain from touching our faces and religiously wash our hands. Where does cleaning up someone else’s human waste factor into these guidelines? If ever there was a case for direct assistance to residents for cleaning up sewage backups, this is it.

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Now, more than ever, we need the city’s decision makers to recognize this ongoing infrastructure problem as the public health crisis that it is. We need to fix the current ineffective Expedited Reimbursement Program and include direct assistance from trained, licensed professionals to keep our communities safe. You can share your experience with sewage backups and recommendations directly with the City Council during a virtual public hearing on July 28. Learn more at www.BlueWaterBaltimore.org.

Alice Volpitta, Baltimore

The writer is Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore.

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