Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 26, 2002) - The Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Maryland announced today a joint settlement with the city of Baltimore that addresses continuing hazards posed by hundreds of illegal wastewater discharges of raw sewage from Baltimore’s wastewater collection system.

Untreated discharges have long contaminated Baltimore-area waters with bacteria, pathogens and other harmful pollutants which can seriously degrade water quality, kill aquatic life and threaten public health. Raw sewage can cause a number of diseases in contaminated areas, including cholera, dysentery and gastroenteritis.

Under the settlement, the city has agreed to undertake a comprehensive, system-wide program that will bring the city into long-term compliance with the Clean Water Act. It will also end the years of chronic discharges of millions of gallons of raw sewage into city streets and local waterways, including the Patapsco River and other tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

Once completed, the extensive sewer upgrade will cost approximately $940 million over the 14-year life of the agreement. In addition, the city has agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty and design a biological nutrient reduction facility for the removal of nitrogen at the city-owned Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant at an estimated cost of at least $2.7 million.

“Years of neglect in coming to grips with the problem of chronic raw sewage overflows has long endangered the environment and public health in the area,” said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement will bring Baltimore into compliance with the law, protect our nation’s waterways and keep the people who depend on them safe from pollution.”

“Today's settlement is a good deal for the parties, the public and the environment. EPA, Maryland and Baltimore can now concentrate our time and resources on preventing the sewage overflows that threaten public health and the water quality of the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay," said Donald S. Welsh, regional administrator for EPA's mid-Atlantic region.

“This has been an extensive problem in Baltimore and will take a long time to correct. Now, the city will be on a timetable to make those repairs and systems corrections that are so desperately needed to ensure the future health of our waters, aquatic life and citizens of Maryland,” said MDE Secretary Jane Nishida.

Most of Baltimore's wastewater is intended to be transported in sanitary sewer systems -- a network of sewer pipes connected to the city's wastewater treatment facilities. The city experiences frequent sanitary system overflows (SSOs) caused by excessive use, limited sewer capacity and infiltration of water into the system caused by years of neglect.

Since 1996 the city has experienced hundreds, if not thousands, of unpermitted discharges of raw sewage from its sanitary sewer system. Conservative estimates of the volume of raw sewage discharged is well over 100,000,000 gallons.

Heavy rainfall or snowmelts often overwhelm the capacity of these systems, resulting in combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that discharge contaminated stormwater and untreated human and industrial waste to local waterways. Many of the waterbodies impacted by the illegal sewage discharges fail to meet the Maryland water quality standards for fecal coliform, which is one measure of disease carrying pathogens in waterbodies.

Under today's settlement, Baltimore has agreed to complete construction work associated with increasing the capacity of its collection system and eliminating physical overflow structures by June 2007. The agreement also requires the city, pursuant to an enforceable schedule with milestone dates and stipulated penalties for failure to:

  • Perform a comprehensive program to repair and rehabilitate its dilapidated sewer system to address remaining SSOs
  • Eliminate illegal sewer connections
  • Effect a complete seperation of the combined portion of the system
  • Improve its operation and maintenance program
  • Implement an emergency response plan
  • Update its monitoring and reporting of sewage discharges

The Justice Department and EPA, often joined by the states, are taking an active lead in municipal Clean Water Act enforcement and have already entered into settlements with numerous municipalities including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Boston, New Orleans, San Diego, Honolulu, Miami, Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio, Jefferson County, Ala. and Mobile, Ala.

In Maryland, the Maryland Department of the Environment has also been aggressively working to correct sewerage problems in its own municipalities and recently signed a consent decree with Allegany County, Cumberland, LaVale and Frostburg for upgrading and rehabilitation of the combined sewer system that they share.

The proposed consent decree was filed today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. It is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.