Two environmental groups have filed notice that they intend to sue a Baltimore area chemical plant they say is dumping 12 times the permitted level of nitrogen into a tributary of the Patapsco River and ultimately Chesapeake Bay.
In 2014 and 2015, the Erachem Comilog Inc. facility at 610 Pittman Road dumped more than 170,000 pounds annually into Arundel Cove, which feeds into Curtis Creek and the Patapsco, according to the groups, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.
The alleged discharge far exceeds the plant’s permitted limit of 13,800 pounds per year of nitrogen and is the kind of pollution that fuels algae blooms that lead to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay and harmful bacteria that can cause infections.
The two groups sent a notice today to Erachem, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying they will file a lawsuit if the plant does not stop violating its pollution control permit and an administrative consent decree with MDE.
“This facility’s violations of the Clean Water Act have been excessive and nearly continuous over the last three years,” said Sylvia Lam, attorney for the Washington-based EIP.
Erachem Comilog, owned by the French mining concern ERAMET, processes manganese into chemicals used for agriculture and the electronics industry.
A company spokesman for Erachem, located in northern Anne Arundel County next to the Baltimore City line,
could not be reached for comment.
“Erachem Comilog, Inc. was surprised to receive this notice since it has been and is currently completing work pursuant to an administrative Consent Agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”) to ensure compliance with applicable total effluent nitrogen,” Chris Cool, human resources vice president, said in a statement on behalf of Erachem.
Anti-Pollution Facility Sought
EIP and the Waterkeeper have been jointly monitoring the plant for a year and say they have attempted unsuccessfully to speak with representatives of the company.
The groups have been pressing Erachem to install a denitrification plant. The company promised to do so by September 4, 2015, as part of a consent decree with the MDE.
In exchange for finishing the installation on time, the state agency gave the company a weaker interim standard of 27,600 pounds of nitrogen per year, according to EIP spokesman Tom Pelton.
But a month after the deadline had passed, the denitrification system was neither installed nor operational, says Pelton, citing a letter that the groups received from Erachem.
Moreover according to state records, the groups say, Erachem reported discharging 172,158 pounds of nitrogen in 2014 and 186,225 pounds of nitrogen in 2015.
“So they were exceeding both the permitted and the interim standards,” said Pelton.
Pollution Controls Working?
Erachem says the denitrification system was installed “last fall.”
Mary Greene, EIP’s deputy director, said pollution control improvements are not reflected in the data they have seen.
“If the required upgrades at the Erachem plant are in fact completed, we should see a dramatic reduction in nitrogen pollution,” Greene said. “We haven’t seen that yet, at least in the monthly reports the company filed with the state through December.”
“Erachem has not been upholding its end of the agreement with the state and has been polluting far more than permitted,” she said.
Cool said the denitrification plant did not work properly right away.
“That’s normal,” he said. “You’ve go to work through a few things and make sure it does what it’s supposed to do.”
MDE spokesman Jay Apperson released this statement on behalf of the agency:
“MDE has been working for years to reduce water pollution from nitrogen at the Erachem Comilog plant’s wastewater treatment facility.
The Department entered into a Consent Agreement with the company in 2013 that required the company to develop and implement a plan to meet limits for nitrogen pollution. The Department has also assessed financial penalties against the company for failing to meet interim pollution limits.
“The company has notified the Department that it has completed its upgrade to its treatment facility. We will verify that this has been done and continue to review the facility’s performance to ensure that it improves and meets required limits.”
State’s Largest Source of Toxics
Pelton said one reason for the groups’ focus on Erachem is the scale of pollution at the plant.
The Erachem facility was the single largest industrial source of toxic pollution to Maryland’s waterways and the fourth largest source of toxic pollution to Maryland’s environment overall, according to the most recent (2014) data available from the federal Toxics Release Inventory, Pelton said.
“I don’t think the public realizes how massive this operation is and how massive the violation is,” he added.
The groups note that the EPA has has required factories, sewage treatment plants, municipal governments and others to reduce their nitrogen output and meet pollution limits, known as the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, by 2025.
“It is not fair that Erachem is flouting the law while most other businesses and communities are complying with their permits and making good efforts to clean up the Bay,” said David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper for Bluewater Baltimore.
“Erachem’s pollution is seriously damaging the health of Curtis Creek and the Patapsco River. The company must upgrade its wastewater treatment systems,” he added.
Here’s the full text of a statement Erachem released yesterday:
“This morning, Erachem Comilog, Inc. received a Notice of Intent (“NOI”) to sue from a group called the Environmental Integrity Project. The NOI alleges that we have not been compliant with certain environmental regulations regarding the discharge of total effluent nitrogen contained in our water permit. Erachem Comilog, Inc. was surprised to receive this notice since it has been and is currently completing work pursuant to an administrative Consent Agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”) to ensure compliance with applicable total effluent nitrogen. Erachem Comilog, Inc. has invested a significant amount of capital and has been working diligently at the direction of MDE to meet the terms and schedule provided for by the Consent Agreement. We have had regular communications with MDE regarding our progress under the Consent Agreement and have every confidence that these issues will be resolved in accordance with the terms and schedule provided for by the Consent Agreement.”