Browsing articles in "Pollution"

Migratory Birds, Fish Could Feel Impact of Gulf Spill

By Allison Frick  //  Cleanup, Pollution, environmentalism  //  91 Comments

Gov. Martin O'Malley (News21 photo by Allison Frick)

OCEAN CITY, Md.– It is extremely unlikely that oil from the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico will make its way into Maryland’s waters, but the spill could affect some of the region’s migratory birds and fish.

That was the consensus shared Tuesday by officials at Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s roundtable discussion on the local effects and lessons learned from the spill.

Complex currents should keep the oil out of Maryland, but if anything from the Gulf does make its way this far north, it will be in the form of tar balls, or “hard, crusted” remnants” of oil, said Dr. Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“This is a wake-up call to us all,” said Boesch, who is a member of a commission that President Obama appointed to study and prevent future oil spills. While he said that Maryland’s waters would not likely fall victim to large, catastrophic blowouts like the one in the Gulf, pipelines and barges that transport oil could leak into the state’s waterways.

There is a lot at stake financially and environmentally in Maryland’s waters.

“We have many migratory shorebirds who will be queuing up and heading south for the winter in the Gulf area,” said John Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. They include terns, skimmers, egrets and blue herons, he said.

Griffin also said that migratory fish such as marlin might be affected.

The governor’s team agreed that the catastrophic spill in the Gulf is a warning for officials and environmental experts.

“We are benefitting and learning from the lessons … in the Gulf,” said Shari Wilson, Maryland secretary of the Environment.

O’Malley discussed in detail with his team the emergency preparedness plans in place in Maryland. They rely on cooperation between the government and private companies to effectively use booms and vacuums to collect and treat water in the event of a spill.

–by Allison Frick


Fixing Anacostia Pollution Won’t Be Quick

A young Eastern painted turtle, covered in algae, basks on some driftwood while a discarded spray paint can floats nearby in the Anacostia River.

A young Eastern painted turtle, covered in algae, basks on some driftwood while a discarded spray paint can floats nearby in the Anacostia River. (News21 photo by Jason Lenhart)

WASHINGTON – Renovations to the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant — needed to help shore up an antiquated sewer system in the nation’s capital — are a year ahead of schedule, with completion expected in 2014, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty says.

But even with the updates, controlling raw sewage runoff into the Anacostia River during heavy rains may remain an issue until at least 2018, say the District’s water and sewer authority and environmental advocates.

The long-standing problem: There isn’t enough space in combined sewage and stormwater pipes to effectively transport untreated runoff to the Blue Plains plant.

“When those pipes reach capacity, overflow valves flip over,” says Brent Bolin, director of advocacy for the Anacostia Watershed Society. “Essentially, raw sewage is discharged into the Anacostia River.”

Urban development in the Anacostia watershed has exacerbated the problem, he says. “As D.C. gets more and more built out, there’s more and more impervious surface and more and more runoff.”

The long-term solution, Bolin says, is to dig an eight-mile long tunnel that will capture and store excess storm water until it can be processed at Blue Plains. The Metrorail-sized tube will run from near RFK Memorial Stadium to Blue Plains.

“We applaud that they’re addressing the problem,” Bolin says. “But it’s a big engineering fix. It’s going to be a process to get through it.”

Currently, when overflows occur, thousands of gallons of polluted stormwater flood the river, exacerbating poor conditions of a river already deemed unsafe for swimming or fishing. (See map of overflow points.)

The overflows occur as many as 80 times a year, D.C. Water officials say. Their frequency is estimated using a model based on the amount of rainfall in a given year.

The renovation and tunnel fixes could reduce the number of combined sewer overflows to two a year, D.C. Water officials say. Reaching zero would make the cost of the project “magnitudes higher” than the current $2.5 billion price tag, according to analyses by D.C. Water and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The move to stifle sewage overflow events has been going on for more than 50 years, but the history of the sewer system goes back more than a century. In the late 1800s, Washington’s combined sewer system was considered to represent the best engineering standards available.

Fenty acknowledged after a meeting this month with the governors of Maryland and Virginia and environmental leaders that oversight could be better. “In the history of our city, our great nation’s capital, we haven’t always protected the rivers,” he said.

D.C. Water’s wide-ranging, $2.5 billion program includes constructing runoff tunnels to alleviate pressure on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek.

“Right now, the grid is overwhelmed,” Bolin says. “There are two things you can do: You can give an outlet to the grid, or you can prevent the inputs.”

Source controls such as increased street sweeping, adding catch basins, and promoting low-impact development and green roofs could help alleviate the stress on the combined sewer, Bolin says.

–by Justin Karp


Experts: Gulf Oil Shouldn’t Threaten Md.

By jennifer.hlad  //  Fishing Industry, Pollution, environmentalism  //  81 Comments

WASHINGTON – Seafood coming from the Gulf of Mexico region is “absolutely safe” and Maryland is “very, very unlikely” to see any oil from the British Petroleum spill, scientists told Maryland’s congressional delegation Thursday.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who chaired the briefing, told representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that she has received e-mails from Marylanders asking if they should cancel plans to visit area beaches or avoid eating seafood.

“With 20 percent of our seafood coming from the Gulf, one of our questions was: Is the seafood safe, and how will we know it will continue to be safe (from oil and chemical dispersants)?” Mikulski said. “Marylanders are wondering: Is this going to come up to our beaches? And is it going to come up the bay,” wreaking havoc on seafood and the environment?

Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner for FDA, outlined how the agency is working to close contaminated areas to fishing and test fish and water before reopening them.

Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries at NOAA, told the delegation that multiple agencies are working together to monitor the seafood coming out of the Gulf region and ensure it is safe.

Steve Murawski, NOAA director of scientific programs for the oil spill, said the currents are working in such a way that water from the Yucatan Peninsula area is going straight over to Florida, and the water near the spill is staying in that region. Usually, that water would be part of a loop current and get pulled southeast, where it could join the Gulf Stream and be swept up the East Coast.

But even if the water from the area near the April 22 oil spill is pulled into the loop current, it is “very, very unlikely that any liquid oil is going to make it this far north,” Murawski said.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he knows the likelihood of oil from the spill making it to Maryland is remote, but he is concerned about the potential impact on wildlife. For example, he said, what may happen to Orioles when they fly south?

He didn’t get an answer.

Cardin also said he wants to make sure there is sufficient baseline environmental data now, so any future impact on this region could be assessed.

Mikulski and Cardin repeatedly asked about the potential effect of chemical dispersants.

“It deeply troubles me that these additional risks are now there,” Cardin said. “We don’t have a body of evidence on these dispersants” at this level.

He raised his voice and challenged Sharfstein, who argued that the chemicals in the dispersants are relatively common and are unlikely to have any toxic effects.

“It’s unprecedented,” Cardin said of the amounts used.

Sharfstein agreed that the situation is
unprecedented, but stressed that “what we do know (about the chemicals) is reassuring.”

Mikulski told the expert panel she and her fellow lawmakers “don’t doubt science,” but also recall the damage wrought by Hurricane Isabel, which swept up the East Coast in September 2003.

“We went to bed and we thought we were safe, and then we woke up and we found out we weren’t,” she said. “What was once infrequent and unlikely is now coming with regularity and tremendous consequence.”

After the briefing, Mikulski said she wants to learn more about the dispersants. She chairs an appropriations subcommittee that funds NOAA, and the group will host a July 15 hearing on them.

–by Jennifer Hlad


Bay Swim Attracts Hundreds in Balmy Conditions

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Pollution, water quality  //  8 Comments
More than 600 swimmers participated. (News21 Photo by Brian Hooks.)

Swimmers approach the eastern edge of the Chesapeake Bay during the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on June 13. More than 600 people participated in the fundraising event. (News21 Photo by Brian Hooks.)

News21 reporter Kate Yanchulis wrote the following — part of a longer story published by several area news organizations:

SANDY POINT STATE PARK, Md. – Hundreds of swimmers from across the country churned through the waters of the Chesapeake Bay on Sunday, and for the participants of the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, nature cooperated.

The favorable conditions – the water at a balmy 74 degrees, the sun shining, the currents flowing toward the finish line – allowed all but 21 of the 618 swimmers to finish the 4.4-mile charity marathon, said Director Chuck Nabit. Last year, strong currents prevented more than 100 swimmers from completing the race.

While many participated for the sheer physical challenge, others also saw it as a showcase of the region’s natural treasure.

The water looked clean on the surface, and some of the participants were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the water. Dr. Bill Dennison, vice president for science applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said the water quality was the best it has been in several years.

But about a third of the course crossed a “dead zone,” or an area of the water with little to no oxygen, making it hostile to aquatic life.

The dead zone stretches 90 to 125 miles long and six miles wide every summer, according to Dr. Mike Roman, lab director at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. That comes to about 10 percent to 15 percent of the total volume of water in the bay, as pollution from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous causes huge algae blooms, which take almost all the oxygen out of the water.

Read full story from Yanchulis.

See photos on Flickr by News21 staffer Jason Lenhart


Environmentalist: Bay Faces ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’

By Allison Frick  //  Pollution, Stormwater Runoff  //  27 Comments

Environmentalist Tom Schueler describes the health of this small stream near Ellicott City, Md. (News21 Photo by Daniela Feldman)

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. – The Chesapeake Bay faces “death by a thousand cuts” unless regulators can reduce the amount of nutrients, metals and other pollutants carried into its rivers by stormwater, said environmental activist Tom Schueler.

Stormwater is the fastest-growing source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

“The last three decades of steady suburban and exurban growth has greatly increased the amount of land that’s been paved over or the amount of turf cover that goes with it,” said Schueler, coordinator of the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, an environmental advocacy group.

Development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed – more roads, roofs and driveways – all prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the soil. Increasing amounts of pollutants flow off these developed lands and into streams and creeks.

Schueler said nutrients, trace metals, oil and grease are some of the pollutants carried in runoff.

He said tougher standards for new development – to reduce sediment and pollutant runoff – need to be put in place, and enforcement of industrial permits needs to be stepped up to prevent pollutants from coming into contact with rainwater.

He added, “If we don’t get serious in the bay watershed to have tougher standards, more enforcement, more frequent inspections and greater accountability, we’ll lose this resource.”

–By Allison Frick


Bay Scientist: ‘Nitrogen Is Our Oil’

By Sharon Behn  //  Bay Education, Cleanup, Pollution  //  35 Comments

Dr. Beth McGee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation / News21 photo by Brian Hooks

Dr. Beth McGee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation compares the Gulf of Mexico's oil spill to the Chesapeake Bay's nitrogen surplus during a recent interview. (News21 photo by Brian Hooks)

The broken ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico is a mirror image of the Chesapeake Bay’s dead zones and chronic decay, warned a leading water quality scientist, Beth McGee.

“Whether it’s impacted by oil, or whether it’s impacted by too much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment, there’s a lot of similarities there,” McGee, who works for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told News21.

“I think it is in a sense that nitrogen is our oil,” McGee said, glancing over her shoulder at the glistening Severn River. McGee was traveling with a News21 team aboard the “Anonymous Source,” a 40-foot trawler owned by the editor of, Glen Justice.

“If you look at the big picture in terms of resources being degraded because of water quality, we have a dead zone that makes a place where animals can’t live or can stress them to the fact that they are more susceptible to disease, which is exactly what oil does,” she said.

The slow pace of the Chesapeake Bay’s deterioration, taking place largely underwater, has led to little public outrage over the gradual disappearance of the estuary’s clear waters, fish and crab.

“I think that’s why they are not outraged: because it is beautiful. You look around, and the Bay on the surface is beautiful,” said McGee. Anyone would have to drop an oxygen probe to the bottom to see the that there is no oxygen there, she added.

“We’re not outraged because it’s not in our face, like it is in the face of the folks in the Gulf, where they can’t go fishing, they can’t buy seafood, they are seeing oil on their beaches,” McGee said.

–by Sharon Behn


Governors Call for Cooperation in Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Cleanup, Politics, Pollution  //  44 Comments

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley inspects a floating wetlands prototype before the press conference at the Inner Harbor Maritime Institute. News21 photo by Jason Lenhart

BALTIMORE — The governors of Maryland and Virginia yesterday joined D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in renewing calls for interstate cooperation in efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

“There may be political borders that divide that watershed, but nature doesn’t recognize those borders,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, after the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council.

Representatives from West Virginia, New York and Delaware also attended, though the three bay watershed states have no members on the Executive Council, which was created in the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement between Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

“When it comes to our waters, we all know, from the governor of Virginia on up, that there are no borders,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who welcomed the group. “The water runs from north to south, east to west, without consideration for jurisdiction or neighborhood or municipal border.”

But though the flags of all six states plus the nation’s capital fluttered in the breeze behind the politicians, no one from Pennsylvania was present. Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a member of the Executive Council, was meeting with the Pennsylvania Legislature about the state’s budget.

And EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the council chair, was also absent. She was in Louisiana dealing with the Gulf oil spill.

Though EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe called increased transparency a hallmark of discussion during the meeting, the meeting itself was closed to the public.

And the speakers were reluctant to discuss the consequences and sanctions that could come for failing to meet cleanup milestones next year. Each state in the Chesapeake watershed has set goals to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, the bay’s biggest pollutants, by December 2011. Recently, federal agencies said they would establish their own two-year milestones to complement state efforts.

The leaders focused at the press conference on the successes of their governments and agencies.

O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell highlighted their state’s restrictions on harvests of blue crabs that helped cause a 60 percent rebound in the crab population from last year to this one.

O’Malley and Perciasepe spoke of the strides made in combining forces and sharing information with the public, especially the unveiling of ChesapeakeStat, a one-stop website for progress reports on restoration efforts across the expansive watershed. ChesapeakeStat is based on BayStat, started three years ago by Maryland’s government.

“I think we are entering an era of action in holding ourselves accountable for real, measurable results,” Perciasepe said. “The bay is an emotionally and culturally connected water body to the entire region, and it is vitally important to the 17 million people who live in this watershed that this multi-agency, multi-state process continue as strongly as possible.”

The level of progress toward cleanup goals has varied. Maryland has already reached its goal of maintaining 150,000 acres of no-till farming but has made no movement on its promise to transport 10,000 tons of manure out of the watershed area. But O’Malley remained optimistic even about the failures.

“There is a rhyme and a reason for picking those two-year milestones,” O’Malley said. “It’s so that all of us know where we’re succeeding and where we’re falling short, so that all of us hopefully can contribute to making sure that we hit those goals and the long-term goal of a much healthier bay.”

– by Kate Yanchulis


Bay Pollution Akin to Gulf Oil Spill, Advocate Says

By Sharon Behn  //  Pollution, Uncategorized  //  48 Comments

William C. Baker, center, at the press conference

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker, center. Photo by News21's Jason Lenhart

ANNAPOLIS – A top environmental official on Wednesday compared the pollution flowing daily into the Chesapeake Bay to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens to destroy the livelihood of thousands of Gulf residents.

“We have a Gulf oil spill right here on Chesapeake Bay that’s a constant, insidious poisoning of another national treasure,” said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“Every single day nearly a million pounds of polluting nitrogen flow into the Chesapeake – every day, 24/7, 365 days a year,” he said at a small gathering of Bay scientists, activists and former politicians at the Annapolis City Dock.

The  group had gathered to call for stronger work to clean up the Bay, one day before a major meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council in Baltimore.

The environmental disaster in the Gulf, Baker said, was not only a crime against nature, but a “crime against humanity that is unfolding even as we speak.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a nonprofit advocacy group focused on restoring the Bay and its tributaries.

–by Sharon Behn


With Gulf Oil Spill, More Demand for Chesapeake Seafood?

By Brian Hooks  //  Crabs, Fishing Industry, Pollution, conservation, oysters  //  18 Comments

The leaking oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may increase demand for seafood from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo - Wikimedia Commons

Crabs and oysters are no longer endangered just in the Chesapeake Bay –the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may harm the southern seafood industry, and the animals themselves. The Associated Press released a story May 4, wondering how the spill –and the federal government’s lockdown on Louisiana fisheries– may affect seafood prices worldwide.

According to the story, the state of Maryland receives about 2,000 bushels a day from Louisiana crabbers, and there is no end in sight for the oil spill. This void may pay dividends for local watermen, since the most bountiful Chesapeake blue crab season in 13 years began last month.

Jason Ruth, a regular Louisiana seafood buyer for a company in Grasonville, told the Associated Press, “Anytime you take that amount of resource out of play, it’s got to be affecting the prices some. To what extent, that’s yet to be seen.”

According to a May 8 report by Reuters, the oil spill is also spreading at the peak time for oyster reproduction in the gulf. To put this in perspective, the gulf provides almost 70 percent of the country’s oysters, with a value of $131.6 million in 2008.

If seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is banned long-term for health reasons, then one of Chesapeake watermen’s biggest competitors will be out of the running for a while.


EPA, Local Governments Propose Anacostia Dumping Limits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the District of Columbia and Maryland, is imposing a new, lower Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) on the Anacostia River, the agency announced Friday.

Facing increasing trash, runoff and pollution levels throughout the Anacostia watershed, the District and the state are working with the EPA to enact the new TMDL.

The Anacostia will be only the second river in the country and the first in the Mid-Atlantic with a trash dumping limit. The Los Angeles River, which runs from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach in Southern California, is the other.

A draft copy of the new Anacostia TMDL cites several ways that trash buildup will be reduced, including:

  • new storm drain capturing technology
  • curtailing of illicit dumping
  • regulation of trash removal and prevention

The EPA made this announcement only four days after the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Project released a $1.7 billion plan to clean up the river, its branches and the wetlands surrounding it.

About 60 of the over 700 projects the plan outlined involved trash regulation and collection along the banks of the river and its offshoot waterways, which extend into Montgomery and Prince George’s County.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here:
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