Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Baltimore Harbor, Still Polluted

Oh look! Contaminated sediment!
Baltimore poised to approve study of toxic chemicals in Back River, helping scientists figure out how to get rid of them
Traces of toxic chemicals have persisted in waterways and animals for decades since the U.S. government banned their use. And they continue to flow into waterways such as the Back River in Baltimore County. A study there could soon could help explain why that is happening — and maybe provide insights into how to get rid of them. Baltimore’s Board of Estimates is expected to approve city funding Wednesday morning for the research.

Industrial chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were long used in electrical and hydraulic equipment and plastics. They were outlawed in 1979 but continue to be found throughout the environment, including in humans.

As Baltimore City, Baltimore County and other jurisdictions around the state struggle with how to tackle the toxic pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, are focusing on the Back River to better understand the contamination. They plan to collect and analyze samples of PCBs that are embedded in muddy creek bottoms, flowing out of wastewater treatment plants and floating around in the water — and into fish gills.

PCB pollution is often thought of as a contaminant found only in soils and sediments, a remnant of old factories and dirty industry. But the research aims to address a different reality regarding PCBs, said Upal Ghosh, a professor of chemical, biochemical and environmental engineering at UMBC.

“What we are finding for our area, especially, and many other urban areas, is there are ongoing sources still,” he said. “We’re starting to figure out what these sources are.”

PCBs are known to cause cancer and impair reproductive and immune systems in animals, building up the most in those at the top of the food chain. Research published last week found the chemicals are threatening the future survival of killer whales.
Because Killer Whales are such an important part of Chesapeake Bay's fauna.

I spent a lot of time and the governments money measuring and studying the movement of toxics in Baltimore Harbor. The sediments are loaded, and, by and large, the toxics aren't going anywhere fast. While PCB do degrade slowly, and not rapidly enough to help much, while heavy metal are eternal. The best hope for cleaning the Harbor (and most similar areas), is either to dredge the shit out, and sequester it somewhere (I have some ideas), or cover it with clean sediment, and then make sure that new sources are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, in a place like Baltimore, a huge part of the city itself was grossly contaminated from carelessness up until the Clean Water Act, and inputs from the city itself, while declining, are still very high.

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