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New Report: Toxic Industrial Stormwater Widespread, Maryland Enforcement Seldom Seen

Those who take public safeguards seriously are well aware of the potential consequences that arise from the dangerous combination of poorly written pollution permits and lax – even absent – enforcement. From construction sites with failing erosion and sediment controls to ammonia and bacteria-spewing concentrated animal feeding operations, our waterways, their users, and vulnerable populations in the pathway of pollution suffer the consequences. Starting today, we add industrial stormwater to the ignoble list of poorly regulated sources of environmental pollution in Maryland. 

Over the last year, the Center for Progressive Reform and the Environmental Integrity Project have collaborated to investigate Maryland’s program for regulation of industrial stormwater, building on earlier work to sue the state to improve its industrial stormwater permit and to bring rigorous enforcement against facilities flouting the permit’s most basic requirements

Sadly, our findings confirm our initial suspicions. Permit violations and unacceptable levels of toxic pollution are indeed widespread. Meanwhile, the Hogan administration’s Department of the Environment pursues costly yet ineffective “compliance assistance” strategies on an ever-shrinking budget. 

Nearly 1,000 facilities are covered by the industrial stormwater permit statewide, and the permit sector is remarkably diverse, from agricultural suppliers on the Eastern Shore to mills in the Allegheny Plateau of western Maryland. However, many facilities, such as auto salvage, scrap metal, and landfills, are densely concentrated in places like Baltimore and Prince George’s County. Of all industrial stormwater permit holders, only 228 are required to monitor and report pollution discharges. Forty-two percent (96 of 228) of these sites either discharged unacceptable levels of pollution or violated the permit by failing to report monitoring results at all. Additionally, MDE inspectors identified violations at 70 percent of all sites inspected in the past year.

Read our report, Toxic Runoff from Maryland Industry. 

Compared to municipal or agricultural stormwater, industrial stormwater discharges represent the worst of all worlds. We found discharges of lead, zinc, and other persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals from facilities in disadvantaged communities at levels many magnitudes greater than acceptable limits. As we explore in the report, industrial stormwater regulations play an important role in protecting workers and surrounding communities from exposure to toxic dust and residue, helping to reduce risk of illness in children, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations. 

Maryland’s adoption of toothless permit requirements and the rejection of deterrence-based enforcement elevate the bottom line of scofflaws above the health and welfare of the most defenseless citizens. It’s no surprise, then, that Maryland lags so far behind neighboring states in making its environmental inspection and enforcement activities public.

Check out the new report, as well as revealing photos, maps, and inspection documents related to this unmitigated environmental harm.

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