Lawmakers vow to block discharge of Ohio derailment water into Back River treatment plant
Blue Water Baltimore protests the move, questioning why Baltimore is being used as “a dumping ground for contaminants and carcinogens”
Above: A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, after a controlled detonation of part of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains on Feb. 6. (YouTube/wkyc.com)
Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki say they will introduce emergency legislation in Annapolis to block a plan by Baltimore city and county leaders to let a private company send treated water from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment to the Back River sewage treatment plant in Dundalk.
“As a member of the Environment and Transportation Committee, I have heard countless hours of testimony regarding the continual failures at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant” that disposes treated sewage into a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, Nawrocki said in a joint statement with fellow Republican lawmaker Szeliga.
“They certainly should not be trusted to process toxic waste into Maryland’s greatest natural resource,” he continued.
Their comments came after yesterday’s announcement about the plan, approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), for Clean Harbors Inc.’s Russell Street facility to accept and treat at least 675,000 gallons of water contaminated by the February 3 disaster and then send it to the Back River sewage plant.
In a statement to The Brew yesterday, an MDE spokesman said that ultimately “about two million gallons of water sourced from a stream adjacent to the derailment are coming for treatment.”
The Brew has asked a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott if the city or county will receive any compensation for taking water contaminated by the spill and burn-off of oil that released toxic vinyl chloride.
“There is no amount of money they could possibly pay [us] to process the toxic cleanup waste from the chemical disaster in Ohio,” Szeliga said.
Blue Water: Why Here?
The announcement has drawn a strong protest from Blue Water Baltimore, the environmental watchdog group that in 2021 first documented the massive illegal outflows of poorly treated sewage from the city’s two treatment plants.
“We are gravely concerned about how this wastewater will be transported from Ohio to Baltimore,” said Blue Water’s Alice Volpitta, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, in a statement released last night.
”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,” Volpitta said.
The group also questioned why Clean Harbors, located near the Horseshoe Casino and Wheelabrator trash incinerator, and the beleaguered Back River plant were selected for this task when other localities and facilities are available.
• Advocates call sludge-clogged Back River sewage plant “a ticking time bomb” (3/20/23)
• Back River’s sewage sludge problems were well known for years (3/20/23)
“The area surrounding Clean Harbors already suffers environmental injustices related to lead paint exposure, air toxics and cancer risk, hazardous waste proximity and more,” Volpitta said. “It is unclear why the U.S. EPA chose this already-overburdened community to accept even more toxic contamination.”
“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,” she said.
“We stand firm that Back River is not a dumping ground for toxic contaminants and carcinogens.”
Wastewater also going to Texas
Media reports indicate other states are already receiving rail shipments of the tainted water.
Officials in the City of Deer Park, east of Houston, for example, said last week that a local contractor is treating and disposing of tainted water from the Ohio derailment.
“Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Texas Molecular informed her office on Thursday that it had started receiving some of the water sometime mid-last week,” KHOU 11 reported.
Hidalgo said the company had received around half a million gallons since then and expected to receive around two million gallons in total.
Volpitta also called on the state and federal government to disclose “specifically what tests will be performed first to determine what toxic contaminants and carcinogens are present.”
At a minimum, she argued, 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.
“Baltimore ratepayers should not shoulder the ecological, public health and economic burden of this additional toxic waste” – Blue Water Baltimore.
She called on regulatory agencies to perform this testing and make the results public – and to perform the same testing at Clean Harbors before the treated wastewater is sent into the sewer system.
The public should be told what federal resources will be provided to the city, county and state in return for accepting and treating the toxic wastewater, she argued.
“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,” Volpitta concluded.
Clean Harbors’ Plan
In a statement released yesterday, Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said they were assured by state and federal officials that “they are confident in [Back River’s] ability to process this material.”
The statement promised “due diligence” by the local officials “to be certain that there is no risk to the health and safety of our residents and our environment.”
In a letter to Patricia A. Boyle of Baltimore’s Bureau of Water and Wastewater, Clean Harbors discussed its approach to treating the Ohio wastewater.
“The proposed treatment scheme will be carbon adsorption using 4×12 mesh reagglomerated carbon followed by inorganic metals removal as needed,” laboratory director Bill Fornoff wrote.
“The primary constituent of concern is vinyl chloride,” he continued.
Data provided by Norfolk Southern indicate vinyl chloride between None Detect (ND) of 1 ppb to 62 ppb.
Data provided by the engineering firm Arcadis, the railroad said, indicates the chemicals PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) at 9.4 ppt and 8.7 ppt respectively in a five-sample composite.
That’s just over EPA’s proposed drinking water standard of 4 ppt, with most other samples being ND.
Clean Harbors will treat the wastewater by filtering through the reagglomerated carbon to produce an effluent below 4 ppt PFOA and PFOS, Fornoff said, before it discharges the effluent into city sewers.