Bay report overlooks many polluters, critics say

January 28, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Environmentalists complain that the draft of an upcoming federal report on toxic pollution of Chesapeake Bay is seriously flawed because it overlooks thousands of factories and sewage plants that discharge hazardous chemicals and metals.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation contends that the report, compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fails to include information that the states have in their files on toxic discharges in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The report, an inventory of toxics entering the bay from sources including air and farm runoff, is supposed to help the states and federal government focus their efforts to reduce such pollution. Officials acknowledge that the report is incomplete, but they say they lacked the staff or money to do a more thorough accounting. More than three years in the making, the inventory is still not final, officials stressed. They said the bay foundation's criticisms will be reviewed next month before it is published.

But Jacqueline Savitz, a bay foundation toxicologist, said the report's shortcomings suggest that the states are not committed to dealing with the problem.

Toxic pollution has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the interstate effort to restore the bay. Although laboratory studies show small amounts of some metals and chemicals are harmful to fish, scientists, environmentalists and government officials differ over how big a role they have played in the decline of the bay's fish populations.

"If we're not looking for toxics problems, we're not going to see them," Ms. Savitz said.

Joseph Macknis, the EPA official in charge of the report, said he relied on the states to supply information. There are more than 6,000 factories and sewage plants in the bay region, but the states reported on only the 67 biggest dischargers of the most toxic chemicals and metals, he said.

However, a study of Baltimore harbor, done last year by an independent consultant, measured greater discharges of some metals and organic chemicals into the lower Patapsco River than the EPA report counted for the entire bay.

The study by the Chesapeake Research Consortium found annual discharges of 12,700 pounds of cadmium into Baltimore harbor, while the EPA report tallied only 4,089 pounds of cadmium being discharged baywide. Releases of copper, chromium, zinc and at least two organic chemicals were similarly underreported.

Kimberly A. Warner, a University of Maryland graduate student who worked on the Baltimore harbor study, said she tallied discharges from more than 100 factories and sewage plants by reviewing files at the Maryland Department of the Environment. She said she spent one day a week for four months collecting the information.

"The data are there" to compile a more accurate picture of toxic discharges into the bay, she said.

One of the problems with the inventory is that each state has a different way of measuring toxic pollution, said Jessica Landman, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. While the report does highlight the significance of storm water in carrying hazardous chemicals and metals into streams and the bay, "there are still these gaping holes in our knowledge."

"This is a good first step, but it's just that -- a first step," said Clay Jones, chairman of an interstate panel reviewing efforts to curb toxic pollution in the bay.

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