Echoing criticism from Baltimore County lawmakers and environmental watchdog groups, a city lawmaker is calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rescind approval of a plan to send at least 675,000 gallons of contaminated water to Baltimore from the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
“Too many neighborhoods in Baltimore are already overburdened with pollution,” Councilman Zeke Cohen, representing southeast’s First District, said in a news release.
“We are at a tipping point for the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and our city’s trust in the Back River facility’s ability to process this water was shaken by the March 15 explosion,” Cohen said.
The Democrat said he will introduce a resolution at tonight’s City Council meeting asking the agency to reverse the decision that stirred alarm after it was disclosed Friday by Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.
UPDATE: Resolution 23-0162R is approved by the Council unanimously.
Councilwoman Phylicia Porter is also decrying the plan for the contaminated water to be transported to the city, where it is to be treated by a waste management company in her district.
“South Baltimore communities like District 10 have been the source of pollution for generations,” Porter said, calling the move “a step in the wrong direction.”
“We are a community of people that deserve environmental dignity,” Porter said in a statement to The Brew.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume tweeted today that he also has asked EPA to rescind its approval of the contaminated water being brought to Baltimore city and county.
As first disclosed on Friday, Clean Harbors Environmental Services on Russell Street would accept and treat water contaminated by vinyl chloride and other potentially hazardous chemicals released after the February 3 derailment and fiery chemical burn-off.
The water – ultimately as much as 2 million gallons, according to state officials – would be sent to the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk and discharged into the local waterway.
Scott and Olsewski said they had “grave concerns” about the plan, but were without the power to reject the federal edict.
Porter and Cohen say Washington officials made the wrong call.
“Under the Biden Administration, the EPA has rightfully committed itself to environmental justice,” Cohen said. “Now is their chance to prove that commitment by rescinding approval of this plan.”
The announcement by Cohen, one of the Council’s more progressive members, reflects the broad spectrum of voices sharply questioning the plan since it was disclosed.
Opponents include the region’s major Chesapeake Bay advocacy groups (Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Legal Alliance), the Back River Restoration Committee and several Republican state lawmakers representing suburban Baltimore County.
Among them are Delegate Robin Grammer (R-Middle River) and Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki, who said say they will introduce emergency legislation in Annapolis to block the plan.
A Baltimore County Democrat, Delegate Nick Allen has also come out against the plan to discharge the treated water into the city sewer system for eventual release into Back River.
Allen tweeted after he and others joined a Saturday zoom meeting in which federal, state and local officials addressed some, but not all, of their concerns.