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Clean water group sues Baltimore to halt pollution at city wastewater treatment plants

Blue Water Baltimore, a clean water advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of its members to compel enforcement of pollution regulations at Baltimore’s wastewater treatment plants.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, alleges that the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant have exceeded their pollution limits on hundreds of days each, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The federal Clean Water Act allows private citizens to file lawsuits to enforce anti-pollution laws.

“These wastewater treatment plants have been discharging massive amounts of pollution, which impacts our local public health, our local streams and the greater Chesapeake Bay,” said Alice Volpitta, the Baltimore harbor waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore.

“We are using every avenue available to ensure that there is a comprehensive plan with measurable deadlines to address all violations, repair the damage to water quality, and enhance oversight,” Volpitta said.

The lawsuit claims that neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the state of Maryland are taking action to halt the pollution or pursuing administrative penalties.

According to the lawsuit, the Patapsco plant violated its permit limits for pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus 133 times, for a total of 899 “exceedance days” between January 2017 and September 2021.

During the same period, the Back River plant exceeded its permit limits 138 times, for a total of 1,611 exceedance days, the complaint claims.

The troubled plants have been under intensifying scrutiny for their handling of wastewater, which can harm acquatic ecosystems and cause illness in humans if not treated properly.

Blue Water Baltimore said in August that it had shared information with the state from its water quality monitoring program, which led state inspectors to discover “major violations” at both plants.

“These (wastewater treatment plants) are pumping millions of gallons of partially untreated sewage into the Patapsco and Back Rivers every day due to significant operational and maintenance deficiencies,” the group said in an August news release.

The complaint asks that a federal judge declare the city to be in violation of the Clean Water Act and Maryland law and block further violations. It also requests civil penalties or court-mandated implementation of environmental projects to benefit residents living in areas that are affected by the pollution violations.

A spokesperson for city did not respond to an email requesting comment.