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Baltimore Sued Over Clean Water Violations At Waste Water Treatment Plants
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Baltimore Sued Over Clean Water Violations At Waste Water Treatment Plants

Environmental group Blue Water Baltimore sues Baltimore mayor and city council over the pollution occurring at two wastewater treatment plants in the city.

Blue Water Baltimore, Inc. filed a complaint in the District of Maryland against the mayor and city council of Baltimore on Wednesday for polluted discharge going into waters from the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant (Patapsco WWTP) and the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (Back River WWTP).

According to the complaint, the defendants have discharged and continue to discharge pollutants into waters in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and their respective National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. As a result, the plaintiff proffered that the defendants have demonstrated an unwillingness and/or inability to comply with the terms of their NPDES permits as well as federal and state law.

As noted in the complaint, the plaintiffs mission is to protect and restore the Baltimore Harbor, the greater Patapsco and Back Rivers, and their tributaries. Reportedly, as a result of the defendants actions, Blue Water Baltimores members have been and continue to be harmed by these alleged violations because the pollution in these rivers impairs water quality, threatens public health, and harms river habitats and aquatic ecosystems.

The Patapsco WWTPs permit reportedly allows it to discharge pollutants from treated wastewater to the Patapsco River in accordance with certain effluent limitations, monitoring requirements, and other conditions set forth in the Permit. As stated in the filing, the Patapsco WWTP can discharge pollutants via Outfall 001A into the Patapsco River, which then flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Specifically, Blue Water Baltimore claimed that the Patapsco River is polluted and impaired because of the: total phosphorus, total nitrogen, total suspended solids, Enterococcus, toxics (polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs), chlordane, impacts to biological communities, and debris/Flotables.

The allegations are similar for the Back River WWTPs permit, where it is allowed to discharge pollutants via Outfall 001A into the Back River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay and Outfall 002A into High Head Lake, which is pumped into outfalls at Bear Creek and then flows to the Chesapeake Bay. The plaintiff claimed that Back River is considered impaired and polluted because of the PCBs in sediment and fish tissue, sediments, chlordane, nitrogen and phosphorus, chlorides, and sulfates.

Blue Water Baltimore noted that the excess pollution can cause harmful algae blooms, fish kills and other negative impacts on health and the environment.

As stated in the complaint, both permits have acceptable levels for effluents, which the defendants are reportedly required to adhere to, among other requirements and conditions. While, there are special conditions to the permit, the general conditions are that the waste water treatment plants must minimize and prevent adverse impacts to waters of the state or to human health. However, Blue Water Baltimore averred that the plaintiffs have violated these conditions because of the excess pollution into the respective rivers and their failure to adhere to the special condition requirements of their permits. For instance, the plaintiff asserted that the Patapsco WWTP did not quantify acrolein and cyanide to the level specified in the Permit and used incorrect sampling methods for phenols.

Specifically, the Patapsco WWTP allegedly violated its permit at least 133 for a total of 899 exceedance days, for various pollutants including nitrogen, phosphorus, TSS, enterococci, and BOD from January 2017 to September 2021, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, Back River WWTP reportedly violated its permit at least 138 times, for a total of 1,611 exceedance days, for various pollutants including nitrogen, phosphorus, TSS, E. coli, and BOD from January 2017 to September 2021.

There are 15 counts against the defendants, such as: failure to comply with the Patapsco permits effluent limits, special conditions requiring adequate testing and reporting of PCBs and toxic chemical testing, among others, as well as general permit conditions like requiring monitoring and reporting. There are similar counts against Back Rivers conduct in regards to its respective permit and said permit requirements.

The plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment; for the defendants to be enjoined from further violations of the CWA and other related and applicable regulations, statutes, and permits; for the defendants to be ordered to immediately comply with their legal requirements; civil penalties against the defendants, among other relief.

Blue Water Baltimore is represented by Chesapeake Legal Alliance and Barley Snyder.

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