Ohio EPA emergency response team

Ron Fodo of the Ohio EPA emergency response team looks for signs of chemicals that have settled at the bottom of Leslie Creek following a train derailment on February 20, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio.

(Photo: Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

Baltimore Blocks EPA Plan to Dump Toxic Wastewater From East Palestine

"Too often cities with high rates of concentrated poverty and environmental degradation are asked to shoulder the burden for corporate malfeasance," said a Democratic City Council member. "East Palestine and Baltimore deserve better."

A local Democratic lawmaker in Baltimore on Tuesday credited community members and clean water advocates for helping to secure an environmental victory, as the City Council unanimously approved a resolution to block shipments of contaminated wastewater from East Palestine, Ohio.

Days after water treatment company Clean Harbors informed Baltimore and Maryland officials that it intended to receive 675,000 gallons of contaminated wastewater containing vinyl chloride and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from the site of a toxic train derailment in February, Councilmember Zeke Cohen introduced a resolution on Monday to stop the shipment.

The treatment facility where the wastewater would be going, the resolution noted, has been operated by the state since March 2022 "due to catastrophic failures at the facility that led to illegal releases of partially treated sewage."

"Ongoing sludge management issues" have also been identified as a cause of a recent explosion at the plant, which treats water that ultimately flows into the Chesapeake Bay, and the neighborhoods surrounding the facility "have an air toxics risk in the 80th-100th percentile and wastewater discharges in the 90th-100th percentile, nationally."

"The decision to send at least 675,000 gallons (that's at least 20 train cars) of contaminated water to an already environmentally overburdened community is reckless," tweeted Cohen on Monday as he introduced the resolution. "We stand in solidarity with the people of East Palestine. We understand all too well the long-term costs of environmental injustice."

"But now is not the time, and our city is not the place to clean up Norfolk Southern's mess," he added, referring to the rail company responsible for the derailment in East Palestine.

Environmental justice group Blue Water Baltimore demanded to know last week why U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials "believe it is appropriate to send the toxic waste that is too dangerous for East Palestine to the shores of Baltimore."

"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," said the group.

The February 3 derailment involved several train cars carrying vinyl chloride and has so far led Norfolk Southern to remove more than eight million gallons of wastewater from the town, shipping it to facilities in states including Michigan and Texas.

Residents of East Palestine have reported symptoms including headaches and vomiting since leaders told them the town was safe to return to following a brief evacuation. Soil near the crash site has been found to contain levels of dioxin that far exceed the cancer risk threshold recommended by scientists.

Democratic Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said late Monday that following the City Council's unanimous adoption of Cohen's resolution, city lawyers concluded he could legally modify a sewage permit and halt City Harbors' plan, which was overseen by the EPA.

"Thank you to Mayor Scott for taking bold and decisive action to deny Clean Harbors from discharging toxic water from East Palestine into our wastewater collection system," said Cohen.

The council member said the victory "was made possible because elected officials listened to voices on the ground."

Residents of the Houston area spoke out last month about plans to inject toxic wastewater from East Palestine into the ground in a suburban area, and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, blocked a shipment of contaminated soil earlier this month.

"Too often cities with high rates of concentrated poverty and environmental degradation are asked to shoulder the burden for corporate malfeasance," said Cohen on Monday. "East Palestine and Baltimore deserve better."

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