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List of State Officials - Martin O'Malley, Governor; Anthony Brown, Lt. Governor; Robert Summers, Acting MDE Secretary 

Volume IV, Number 9

 March 2011

eMDE is a quarterly publication of the Maryland Department of the Environment. It covers articles on current environmental issues and events in the state. 

MDE headlines

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Fish kill, cast as apocalyptic, result of natural causes

With reports of animals dying en masse at spots across the globe, some asked whether the deaths of 2 million Chesapeake Bay fish represented another reason to ask whether the end is near.

But Maryland Department of the Environment scientists quickly found that natural causes – cold water stress exacerbated by a large population of the affected species – appeared to be the reason that juvenile spot fish were washing up on Maryland shorelines. 

While the investigation continued, the news spread beyond the local media toCNN and throughout the Internet. Reporters for newspapers in Sweden and the Netherlands called MDE for information. Voice of America television covered the story for airing in Pakistan and other countries.

Much of the coverage noted that the fish kill in the Bay came around the same time as mass deaths of fish and birds in other parts of the United States and the world. And some wondered – though perhaps jokingly ­– whether the animal deaths might portend the end of the world. That type of reaction spawned coverage of the coverage.

MDE – which is mandated by state law to oversee the investigation of fish kills in Maryland – focused on the evidence. Though the size of the fish kill was large, it was not unprecedented. Water quality in the area appeared to be acceptable. The affected fish were almost exclusively juvenile spot fish – a species whose susceptibility to winter fish kills is well-documented. The surface water temperature in the Bay was the coldest seen in December in a quarter century. Just before the fish kill, a mid-Bay monitoring station recorded a sudden drop in bottom water temperatures to below the tolerance level for spot fish. A large population and limited habitat might have compounded the effects of cold-water stress.

MDE continued to review water quality and water temperature data and received the results of tests on fish tissue, which showed no environmental contamination. The agency concluded that the kill was caused by cold water stress.

Landlord brings properties into line after jailing in lead case

A Baltimore landlord who was jailed after failing to meet the requirements of Maryland’s lead law has brought the final two properties in the case into compliance.

Cephus Murrell was ordered on Dec. 15 to report to the Baltimore City Detention Center after being found in contempt of court in a civil case brought against him by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Murrell had failed to meet a series of agreed-upon deadlines going back to 2006 to obtain lead risk reduction inspection certificates for his rental properties.

Lead risk reduction inspections are a critical tool in Maryland’s fight against childhood lead poisoning. Since 1993, Maryland has reduced childhood lead poisoning by nearly 98 percent.

Murrell is the second landlord to be jailed in a civil case involving Maryland’s lead law. A Dorchester County landlord spent a weekend in jail several years ago.

On Dec. 20, Judge W. Michel Pierson agreed to reinstate the stay on Murrell’s incarceration after contracts were signed to do required work at two properties that at that time remained out of compliance. Work has been completed at those properties, and property management companies have taken control of all of Murrell’s rental properties.

MDE moves to sue Mirant for pollution at coal combustion byproducts site

The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued notices of the agency’s intent to sue a utility company in connection with water pollution violations at two of its disposal sites for coal combustion byproducts.

MDE issued Notices of Intent to Sue to Mirant Mid-Atlantic LLC and Mirant Maryland Ash Management LLC for water pollution violations at Mirant’s Westlandsite in Montgomery County and the Faulkner site in Charles County.

MDE filed suit last April in federal court for similar violations at Mirant’s coal combustion byproducts disposal site in Brandywine. The violations at the Faulkner site had been the subject of an action in State Court. Because all three cases involve common issues of fact and law, MDE moved to withdraw the State court action to consolidate the cases in federal court.

MDE’s investigation shows that Mirant has continued to dispose of coal combustion waste in unlined landfills, where pollutants leach or are otherwise discharged into the groundwater and surface waters. Based on sampling data from on and around all three sites, ground and surface water contamination does not appear to pose an immediate risk to public health. In 2008, MDE enacted new regulations for all coal combustion byproduct disposal facilities.

Note: This article has been edited since publication.


©2011 Copyright MDE

Editorial Board
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21230