Environmentalists blast latest bay cleanup plan

October 11, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

Industries and municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay region would be asked to reduce releases of toxic chemicals by up to 75 percent over the next six years under a multistate plan to be adopted Friday.

But the Chesapeake Bay Foundation warned yesterday that state and federal governments would be "backpedaling" on their commitment to restore the bay if the plan is adopted, waiting "until fish start dying and people become sick" before acting.

The Annapolis-based environmental group called on the political leaders of the bay region, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer, to "stand firm against the recommendations of state and federal bureaucrats . . . to weaken efforts to reduce toxic pollution of the bay."

The governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the mayor of Washington, and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency are to meet Friday in St. Leonard, Calvert County, to consider the new toxic-pollution strategy and other bay cleanup measures.

Spokesmen for Governor Schaefer, outgoing chairman of the bay restoration effort, and for Virginia Gov. George Allen, who is slated to take the helm on Friday, could not be reached for comment yesterday. It was a government holiday.

But William Matuszeski, head of the EPA's bay program office, defended the new toxic-pollution strategy, saying it represents a significant improvement over a controversial pledge adopted in 1987 to "work toward a toxics-free bay."

Scientists and regulators object to the "toxics-free" goal, arguing it is impossible to achieve and unnecessary. Only Baltimore's harbor and a few other areas have serious toxic pollution, Mr. Matuszeski said. The new strategy -- drafted over the past year by a committee of government regulators, industry executives and scientists -- would set a new goal of "a Chesapeake Bay free from toxic impacts."

It calls for a 75 percent reduction by the year 2000 in discharges of 14 highly toxic contaminants deemed the biggest threats to the bay, including PCBs, a few pesticides and heavy metals like lead, mercury and chromium.

Industry also would be asked to halve releases of 600 other toxic chemicals.

But the reductions would be voluntary, foundation officials point out, and the strategy does not spell out how industry and government plan to achieve them.

More aggressive cleanup efforts are being made for the Great Lakes than for the Chesapeake, said William C. Baker, president of the 87,000-member Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"In the Great Lakes, our government has said 'no' to toxics if there is any way to keep them out of the water," Mr. Baker said. But on the Chesapeake, "our government is saying that toxics are acceptable until fish start dying and people become sick."

The Great Lakes have worse toxic pollution than the Chesapeake, Mr. Matuszeski pointed out. And bay-area industries already have voluntarily reduced toxic releases by more than 40 percent since 1988.

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