By KENNETH R. FLETCHER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - A new report shows that more than one-third of major industrial and municipal facilities in Maryland discharged more pollution into waterways in 2005 than allowed by federal law.
The report by Environment Maryland used Environmental Protection Agency data to show that 35 of the 97 Maryland facilities with Clean Water Act permits exceeded their discharge limits at least once during 2005.
"With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that nearly half of America's waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing," said Environment Maryland policy associate Josh Bell in a prepared statement.
Still, the percentage of facilities posting such "exceedances" in Maryland was well below the national average of 57 percent, and the Maryland facilities exceeded their permit levels by 84 percent, compared to 263 percent nationally.
Maryland ranked 45th among the 49 states and the District of Columbia cited in the report.
The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, pledged to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters by 1985, a goal that it is still far from meeting.
The most-frequently cited polluter in Maryland was the Perryville Wastewater Treatment Plant, which exceeded permit levels 37 times in 2005, according to the report. The Cecil County plant is under a consent order with the state and is paying fines to the Clean Water Fund.
Perryville Town Administrator Denise Breder said the plant is at least 25 years old, which means it has trouble meeting stringent clean-water standards. The town has made repairs and taken other temporary measures to curtail some of the discharge until a new facility opens, which the town intends to complete in June 2009, Breder said.
The report said the Naval Support Facility Indian Head in Charles County exceeded permit levels 10 times in 2005.
"We've done a lot to improve the infrastructure on the installation," said Navy spokesman Gary Wagner. "We have a pretty aggressive program to monitor any kind of environmental problems."
The EPA data only tracks major facilities, which are determined by potential for pollution and public health risks, among other factors. Environment Maryland said this underestimates the total amount of pollution entering Maryland waterways from sources that have not been labeled major.
"This is only the tip of the polluted iceberg," Bell said. "We really have no idea how much is being dumped into our waterways."
As evidence of the impact, the report points to more than 25,000 beach closings and advisories nationwide in 2006, the highest level in 17 years, and fish-consumption advisories put in place because of polluted waters. Maryland waters have also been impacted by these restrictions.
Environment Maryland called on Congress to support the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would expand the number of waterways that would be protected by the Clean Water Act.
"We should be ratcheting down the amount of pollution," Bell said, so that "all waters, from tiny streams up to Chesapeake Bay are protected by the Clean Water Act."