Chemical Indicators Show High Levels of Bacteria in City
A report recently released by the Baltimore Sanitary
Sewer Oversight Coalition, in conjunction with four
Baltimore watershed associations, finds that many urban
streams in Baltimore suffer from sewage contamination. The
report, authored by Guy Hollyday, chairman of BSSOC, and
Christel Cothran, with the Jones Falls Watershed
Association, was written to draw attention to the ongoing
contamination of city streams, many of which flow through
municipal parks and residential areas. The goal of the
report is to provide information to help identify ways to
better protect our urban waterways from sewage
Hollyday said, "Citizens should know that at this very
moment, as for decades past, we are allowing sewage to flow
into our streams — in part because historically we
have paid such low water and sewer rates. Every time it
rains there are places where sewage overflows. There are
many problems to address, and there is much to do."
The water quality report includes findings from
research conducted by Rolf Halden, assistant professor in
Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health, and Daniel Paull, a research
intern and graduate student in the Zanvyl
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Halden's study,
which analyzed water samples from six urban streams,
identified several areas where high levels of antimicrobial
compounds indicated massive wastewater inputs. Perhaps the
study's most alarming discovery was that the water flowing
from Gwynns Run into Gwynns Falls was at times chemically
indistinguishable from raw sewage. The study was funded by
Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
"This report is important because it presents
scientific evidence of unhealthy levels of pollution from
sewage," Halden said. "We've known we have sewage problems.
This report will help us recognize the opportunities we have
to solve them."
Sewage discharges caused by storm overflows and an
aging infrastructure allow untreated human waste and
personal care products to flow into local creeks and
streams. According to a September 2002 U.S. Justice
Department consent decree, Baltimore City has until 2016 to
significantly reduce sewage overflows. The cost of the work,
estimated at $1.3 billion, will be paid for by increases in
residents' water and sewer rates.
Each year, there are about 100 overflows into local
streams and many more sewage backups into private homes from
various causes — sometimes from defects on owners'
properties, sometimes from backups in city mains.
"I hope this report will raise public awareness of
potential human health risks and focus resources and actions
to address water-quality problems caused by sewage spills,"
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