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Environmentby Mark Reutter and Fern Shen7:05 amMay 6, 20230

East Palestine derailment water is coming to Baltimore for treatment, but will be disposed of elsewhere

Cleveland, Ohio, has been selected as the place for final release of creek water tainted by vinyl chloride and other chemicals released by the derailed train

Above: Water processing tanks at Clean Harbors’ treatment plant in South Baltimore. (Mark Reutter)

Contaminated water from the Norfolk Southern train derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, is about to be shipped to Baltimore, a state environmental spokesman confirmed last night.

But the treated effluent will be returned to Ohio for final disposal rather than be discharged into Baltimore’s sewer system as originally planned.

Clean Harbors Baltimore previously said it would accept, decontaminate and dispose of 675,000 gallons of the tainted water at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk.

But after a public uproar, the Department of Public Works denied the company’s request to discharge the water, and Norfolk Southern devised a new plan.

“Norfolk Southern Railway Company has notified the Maryland Department of the Environment that the company intends to ship waste material to the Clean Harbors Baltimore Facility for treatment and that, following treatment, the wastewater will be shipped to Clean Harbors Cleveland, Ohio, facility for final disposal,” MDE spokesman Jay Apperson told The Brew.

The railroad plans to ship 75,000 gallons a day to Clean Harbor’s plant on Russell Street and was hoping to start on April 29, but the shipments – arriving by rail and truck – have not yet begun, Apperson said.

Under the Commerce Clause, cities and states do not have regulatory authority over interstate commerce. The transportation and disposal of hazardous wastes are handled by private companies under the supervision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Clean Harbors did not respond to requests for information about the pending shipments.

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)

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, after the controlled detonation of part of the derailed Norfolk Southern train on February 6. (YouTube/wkyc.com)

Political Blowback

Clean Harbors’ original plan – to accept material from a high-profile environmental disaster in which toxic vinyl chloride was released – stirred a hornet’s nest of opposition when news broke in March.

At a hastily called press conference, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott indicated that the city would accept the treated water at its Back River sewage plant for release into the Chesapeake Bay.

The plan was sharply questioned by environmental scientists and denounced by city and state politicians.

They expressed concern about whether the treated wastewater could be properly handled at the troubled Back River plant, which only two weeks before had been rocked by an explosion at its sludge-drying facility.

Backpedaling, the city informed Clean Harbors that the discharge could “endanger sewer workers and contribute to air quality issues” and permission was denied.

Asked yesterday if the mayor was aware of the company’s current plans, a spokesman referred a reporter to the Department of Public Works, which did not respond.


Environmentalists decry plan to bring East Palestine derailment water to Baltimore (3/24/23)

Lawmakers vow to block discharge of Ohio derailment water into Back River treatment plant (3/25/23)

Cohen and Porter join protest against Ohio derailment water being shipped to Baltimore (3/27/23)

Clean Harbors says it will not process East Palestine wastewater in Baltimore (3/28/23)

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