©2010 GARTH LENZ/ILCP
An Economic and Environmental Liability
By Beth McGee
Sparrows Point’s Coke Point is shown here with the Patapsco River in the distance.
he employees of the Sparrows Point steel
mill in Baltimore currently out of work may
not be the only ones negatively affected by the
current owner, RG Steel LLC, recently filing for
bankruptcy. Neighbors of the site, including
the communities of Turner’s Station, North
Point, and Dundalk, who have long
expressed concerns about the impacts of
current and historic releases of toxic chemicals into the air, surface water, and ground
water, may also lose.
ate contamination caused by the facility. The
studies were to include a comprehensive
assessment of the extent to which offsite
migration of toxic contaminants may present
a risk to human health and the environment.
tional delays. But EPA and MDE also share
some of the blame for allowing the assessment and cleanup to languish for so long.
CBF has requested that the agencies move
forward on their own and conduct the
studies needed to answer questions about
the extent and degree of contamination
around the property.
The original owner, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, operated on the roughly 2,300-
acre site on a peninsula bordered by Bear
Creek, the Patapsco River, and Old Road
Bay for more than 80 years, making iron
and steel and building ships. During that
time, the facility was notorious for violating
pollution regulations for air, water, and
toxic wastes that fouled local waterways
and impacted local communities.
Sadly, 15 years and several owners later,
cleanup has not been completed, contaminants continue to leech from or runoff the
property, and the comprehensive offsite
assessment has not occurred. As a result,
the questions that nearby communities
have about the extent and possible effects
of contamination have gone unanswered.
These studies will not only help answer the
communities’ questions about the health of
Bear Creek and potential risks, but provide
information that will be useful for potential
future buyers of the Sparrows Point property. Reducing the uncertainty regarding the
environmental liability of Sparrows Point
could make the property more appealing to
potential buyers. Unfortunately, to date,
EPA and MDE have refused—a decision
that could extend an already long history of
economic and environmental liability at the
site. CBF is continuing to pursue any and
all options to get the study completed.
In the late 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) sued Bethlehem Steel for numerous hazardous waste
violations. The case was settled in 1997
when the parties signed a Consent Decree
that required Bethlehem Steel and any subsequent owner to correct the violations and
perform the necessary studies to fully evalu-What we do know is that sediment from
Bear Creek adjacent to Sparrows Point is
consistently toxic to small crustaceans
called “amphipods” that are native to the
Chesapeake Bay. And, a recent study by the
Maryland Port Authority on the areas adjacent to Coke Point (arguably the most contaminated portion on the Sparrows Point
property) found that levels of certain
chemicals in sediments and/or surface
water pose potential risks to human health
and the environment.
A version of this oped was also published in the
June 13, 2012, issue of The Bay Journal.
The revolving door of ownership has certainly prolonged and complicated the
clean-up process. RG Steel’s recent bankruptcy announcement may lead to addi-
Beth McGee, CBF Senior Water
Quality Scientist, researched
contaminated sediments in
Baltimore Harbor for her Ph.D.
from the University of Maryland.
20 Summer 2012 ; cbf.org