What angered marina owner Art Cox was the fact that his small business spent a lot of money to comply with environmental laws, but the government allowed the big steel factory nearby to virtually ignore a pollution cleanup order.
These two were among several Baltimore area citizens who joined with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper in announcing today that they had filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the owners of Sparrows Point steel plant over water pollution pouring from the industrial site.
For more than a decade, EPA and MDE have failed to enforce a 1997 consent decree signed by the factory owners that should have stopped the flow of pollutants from the roughly 2,300 acre factory compound on the Patapsco River. Meanwhile, toxic materials from Sparrows Point have continued to seep into both the Patapsco and Bear Creek. High concentrations of chromium and arsenic (both known carcinogens), lead (which can cause neurological problems) and other contaminants have been found in the sediments nearby, according to testing results reviewed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).
CBF and its partners are demanding that the EPA and MDE enforce the 1997 cleanup order, halt illegal water and air pollution, and investigate the impact on human health and aquatic life.
"Over 12 years ago, a consent order was signed which required that the site be cleaned up. Twelve years ago, and the work has not been done. One could say, it has hardly even begun," CBF president Will Baker said this morning during a press conference at Turner Station Park in Dundalk (pictured above). "The public must have the trust that the government will enforce the law, and that companies will abide by the law."
Maryland Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson said that her agency last year started negotiations with the current owner of the plant, Severstal, to try to add more specific deadlines to the cleanup order.
"We understand the concerns of local residents -- and environmental groups -- about Sparrow's Point," Wilson said in a written statement. "Cleaning up Sparrow's Point is a massive undertaking, because we are reversing the damage done by more than 100 years of industrial use to meet modern day environmental standards. We look forward to a revised consent decree and working with all of the interested parties on these issues."
Jon Mueller, director of litigation for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, replied that Maryland Department of the Environment and EPA have been aware of problems at this site for two decades yet they have not required the owners to study -- let alone clean up -- the contamination that continues to leave the property every day.
Jerry Tomko (top), a retired iron worker who for more than two decades has owned a house on Murray Point Cove, said he's sick of glittering ash from the steel mill fouling his home and boat.
When he's out on the water, he sometimes sees yellowish-green slime oozing from the industrial property's landfill into the river -- an unsettling sign that the waste is harming the whole community.
"We don't do any fishing or crabbing – not in this creek, because of the pollution," Tomko said, while standing on the docks. "We fish down the Bay and up the Bay, nowhere near here….We bought and built on the water because we wanted to use the water for recreation. But that's nonexistent."
Art Cox (pictured at left), an owner of the Anchor Bay East Marina on Cove Point Road in Dundalk, is proud of the fact that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has certified his business as a Maryland Clean Marina.
That means that his marina spends a lot of effort to comply with environmentally-friendly practices, such as recycling oils so they don't escape into the water, filtering waters used for boat washing, and planting filter strips of grass and trees along the river's edge.
"It costs us quite a bit a year, both in manpower and in expenditures, to comply with the clean marina initiative, and we are very happy to do it," Cox said, while offering a tour of his boatyard this morning. "But it does get frustrating when you see the big guys are not held to that same level."
Cox said that Sparrows Point's failure to follow environmental laws continues to hurt his business, because fewer people want to boat in the area.
The original owner of the roughly 2,300 acre steel plant site, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, operated for more than 80 years, making iron and steel and building ships. During that time, the plant was cited numerous times for violating pollution regulations for air, water and toxic waste, according to the CBF's notice of intent to sue.
By the 1980s, the federal and state governments were "well aware of the environmental and human health hazards posed by the site," including a nearby landfill, the notice states.
In the late 1990s, the EPA and MDE sued Bethlehem Steel for several hazardous waste violations. The case was settled in 1997, when the parties signed a consent decree that required the company and any following owners to correct the violations and perform the necessary studies to fully evaluate and clean up the site.
Since them, almost no clean up of the site has happened. Meanwhile, studies have found soils tainted with carcinogens such as PCBs, groundwater tainted with toxic metals, contaminated water flowing off the site, and other problems, the CBF notice says.