When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went looking for wastewater treatment sites to treat and discharge the contaminated water from the Ohio derailment cleanup site, they picked one in Baltimore. Under the proposed plan, Clean Harbors of Baltimore, Inc. would treat the polluted water and it would be discharged from the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which just suffered an explosion and has had repeated pollution violations in recent years.
In a letter to the City of Baltimore, Clean Harbors of Baltimore, Inc. wrote that it was determined that Clean Harbors was “an optimal wastewater treatment site to treat and discharge the wastewater collected from rainwater, collected water, and stream water above and below the cleanup site of the Norfolk Southern Railroad derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that occurred February 3, 2023.”
The letter went on to explain that the main substance of concern in the 675,000 gallons of wastewater is vinyl chloride. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vinyl chloride can irritate the eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory tract. Chronic exposure can cause permanent liver damage and cancer, as well as neurologic symptoms.
After the plan was made public, environmental groups and Baltimore City leaders quickly pushed back. The city’s waterway watchdog group, Blue Water Baltimore, put out a strongly worded statement, saying in part:
“The area surrounding Clean Harbors already suffers environmental injustices related to lead paint exposure, air toxics and cancer risk, hazardous waste proximity, and more. It is unclear why the U.S. EPA chose this already-overburdened community to accept even more toxic contamination, and we demand to know why they believe it is appropriate to send the toxic waste that is too dangerous for East Palestine to the shores of Baltimore.”
Pointing out that a critical facility at the wastewater treatment plant is still damaged from last week’s explosion and fire, Blue Water Baltimore writes, “It is entirely inappropriate to further stress-test this facility by adding even more toxic contaminants to the waste-stream from wastewater produced outside of the watershed.”
After expressing his own concerns, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott moved to modify Clean Harbors’ discharge permit, denying them their request to treat and discharge the train derailment’s wastewater into Back River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
So I look up Clean Harbors Inc, and found:
This facility serves Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic United States as a treatment facility for a variety of industrial wastewater and as a transfer station for other industrial waste including flammables, oxidizers, poisons and reactives. The facility also provides a unique liquid/liquid extraction system for treating organic contaminated wastewater. Waste not treated on-site is processed at other Company-owned sites or approved ultimate disposal sites.
Sounds like the perfect site to perform the work, and it might even help support some badly needed jobs in Baltimore. There's no real evidence provided that the material from Ohio is worse than what the company already treats and releases, or whether significant pollution will be released. The seems like a knee jerk reaction to a perfectly normal commercial transaction in the name of "environmental justice". I would think Clean Harbors Inc. might have a cause of action against the city.
I was also reminded of a passage from Alice's Restaurant Massacree:
We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So We took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW Microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed On toward the city dump.
Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across across the Dump saying, "Closed on Thanksgiving." And we had never heard of a dump Closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes we drove off Into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage.
We didn't find one. Until we came to a side road, and off the side of the Side road there was another fifteen foot cliff and at the bottom of the Cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw our's down.