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Toxic Pollution from Sparrows Point Steel Mill

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper (Harborkeeper) today announced that they have notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and the current and former owners of the Sparrows Point steel plant of their intention to sue them in federal court to force a clean-up of pollution flowing from the plant site, to conduct an adequate assessment of risks to human health and the nearby ecology, and to address other violations of the law.


"Sadly, federal and state agencies have not met their responsibilities at Sparrows Point," said Will Baker, president of CBF. "The owners of the plant signed a legal agreement to clean up the site more than a decade ago, but authorities haven't enforced it. Meanwhile, people live nearby, and fish and crab in waters where sediments are laced with toxic contaminants."


The agreement, called a Consent Decree, was signed in 1997 by the original owner Bethlehem Steel Corp. and the federal and state agencies. The terms of the agreement have not been met.


Past and recent investigations at the site have found: Carcinogens in soils at the mill site at levels many times the Maryland soil cleanup standards; high concentrations of toxic metals, petroleum by-products, and solvents in groundwater onsite; water pollution discharge permit violations at the steel mill's wastewater treatment facility; various air pollutants; and expansions of the Grey's Point landfill in violation of the Consent Decree.


"Toxic pollution is flowing from the steel mill site into the Patapsco River and Bear Creek. Despite the Consent Decree, no measures have been taken to prevent this pollution. These waters must be protected because nearby residents deserve a healthy and clean environment," said Eliza Smith Steinmeier, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.


In a press conference at Turner Station Park on the banks of Bear Creek, Baker and Steinmeier announced CBF and the Waterkeeper sent a letter today to EPA, and MDE, the current owner, Severstal Sparrows Point LLC, and past owners, including Mittal Steel, and International Steel Group, notifying them of their intention to sue. The law requires 90-day advanced notice to give responsible parties time to address claims in the letter.


Joining CBF and Waterkeeper in the possible legal action will be several local residents and businessmen.


"Our federal environmental laws provide citizens and citizens' groups, like Waterkeeper and CBF, the ability to bring legal action to remedy environmental harms," said Steinmeier. "This letter is the beginning of that process."


Nearly a century of industrial activities at the Sparrows Point Industrial Complex has left behind a legacy of toxic contamination that rivals many Superfund sites. Pollutants have flowed off the site into nearby waterways.


Sediments in Bear Creek contain high levels of contamination, are toxic and almost devoid of life. Yet, the potential human health and environmental risk from exposure to these contaminated sediments has not been evaluated or addressed as required in the 1997 Consent Decree. The public uses those waters for recreation: fishing, crabbing, etc.


"The owners and government agencies must properly oversee remediation at the site, and enforce the terms of the Consent Decree and relevant laws," Baker said. "People need to be reassured their health and environment is safe.

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