Steel Plant Will Decrease Toxic Discharges

Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point steel plant will soon reduce its toxic discharges. The Maryland Department of the Environment has decided to put serious restrictions on the amount of polluting materials that the steel plant is allowed to dump into the Patapsco River. The Patapsco is a tributary of the Bay, which means that toxic materials dumped into it flow directly into the Chesapeake Bay.

Factories and other industrial facilities like the Sparrows Point plant have to get a permit from Maryland's government that sets a limit on how much pollution they are allowed to create. The Sparrows Point plant, as part of the steel-making process, creates many different kinds of toxic metals and chemicals.

Lead, nickel, cyanide, zinc, and copper are the largest byproducts of the plant. They are poisonous to the wildlife of the Bay - everything from underwater grasses to even the blue crab - and can make people very sick. The steel plant also produces nitrogen and phosphorous, which can create harmful blooms of algae in the Bay.

Under the new permit, Bethlehem Steel will reduce the amount of toxic metals it dumps into the Patapsco by 87 percent. It also will build a new waste treatment plant that Bethlehem Steel estimates will be three times more efficient than the treatment plant that already exists.

The battle between the Sparrows Point plant, Maryland state government, and environmental organizations has been going on for a long time. In 1984, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation proved that the plant had been polluting much more than it was allowed to. Though Bethlehem Steel has been fined $158,000 by the state for doing this over the past years, no long-term solution has been found until now.

"If we're going to get serious about the Bay cleanup, it's critical we immediately reduce toxics and other recognized pollutants that flow to the Bay," Theresa Pierno, CBF Maryland Executive Director, said. "If the permit is accepted as currently written, it may go down as a significant achievement in our fight against toxic pollution to the Bay."

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