Keep 'em flying, without polluting Deicer in streams: Despite heavy spending, runoff problem remains at BWI.

January 23, 1998

THERE IS NO question that chemical deicing of airplanes in winter is essential for safe flying. There is also no question that those chemicals, harmful to the environment and public health, need to be safely contained.

That is the crux of a legal challenge to deicing operations at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The facility is accused of frequently violating state-permitted discharge limits of toxic glycol compounds into streams of the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the Maryland Aviation Administration, about two-thirds of the 200,000 gallons of deicer used at BWI last year found its way into tributaries of the bay.

This despite the airport spending nearly $20 million on advanced containment systems.

It's not a one-year spike, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental group that filed notice to sue the airport in Linthicum.

For three years, the aircraft deicer, similar to car antifreeze, has flowed into area streams -- after a $16 million runoff containment system was installed at BWI.

The state airport defends its position (with the eager complicity of the Maryland Department of the Environment) by arguing that it has spent a lot of money on the problem, regardless of whether excessive chemical runoff has continued. By that reasoning, an industrial polluter could poison the environment with impunity as long as it could document expenses for reducing the discharge.

Yes, the airport plans to install further deicing runoff controls.

Yes, it did report the pollutant runoff to authorities (unlike Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the Natural Resources Defense Council alleges).

So the intent and the momentum for improvement are there. But that does not absolve the airport -- and state regulators -- from concerted efforts to stem release of harmful chemicals into our waters. Doing it right, rather than just throwing money at the problem, is the primary need.

We hope the Natural Resources Defense Council can prod BWI and the state to clean up their act and the airport water pollution.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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