Next year, 20 years after approving a strategy that called for a Bay “free of toxics,” the Chesapeake Executive Council will consider something else: a Bay agreement free of any reference to toxics.The authorities have been largely ignoring the problems of toxics in the Bay for the last 20 years or so; they might as well make it official.
Controlling toxic pollution has been an issue for the Chesapeake since the EPA released the results of its multi-year Bay study in 1983 that identified toxic pollution as one of the factors in its decline.
Numerous studies over the years have affirmed the continued threat to aquatic life — and human health — posed by toxics in the Bay and its tributaries.
The Executive Council approved toxics reduction strategies in both 1994 and 2000. The council includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the District of Columbia mayor; the EPA administrator; and chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.
But with states already struggling to meet their nutrient reduction obligations, reaching any consensus to address — or even research — issues involving chemical contaminants in the Chesapeake and its watershed in the new Bay agreement has itself become a toxic issue.
A first draft of the agreement, released for comment in early summer, excluded any specific toxic reduction goal, and received sharp criticism for that omission during an initial round of public review.
“It is not a question of whether toxics are good or bad. It is a question that there are other environmental regulations that are already working on those issues, either at the state level or the federal level,” Domenech said. “Our sense was that this Bay agreement doesn’t necessarily have to have everything in it to be effective.”
Toxics in the Bay are generally improving (concentrations declining) due to improvements in the sources which date back as far as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of the 1970s, but since most toxics reside in the sediment, the clean phase has been rather slow, occurring largely as newer, cleaner sediment deposits on top of the older, dirtier mud.