On Sept. 22, I met with officials from the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant to discuss The Baltimore Sun August 30, 2021 article about high levels of partially treated raw sewage that were found in Back River.
Those who attended the meeting were Mike Hallman, Division Chief; Matt Garbark, Deputy Director; and Janelle Mummey, Legislative Liasion. Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) also attended the meeting.
I was given an explanation of the treatment and sanitation process. Mr. Garbark stated that there were some inaccuracies in the Aug. 30 Sun article. He acknowledged that there was solid discharge into Back River and he was trying to work with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to determine the exact amount of the discharge into Back River. There was a meeting on Sept. 9 and a follow-up meeting scheduled for Sept. 23.
MDE could impose fines up to $10,000 daily and Baltimore DPW blames “significant operational and maintenance issues”. The plant has 85 operators on site to monitor the wastewater process. Five of the operators are fully certified operators with supervisor licenses. Nine are new operators who have been on board within the last nine months. The goal is to have new classes to do more certifications on site.
The staff maintains that the Baltimore City is capable of operating the Back River plant and operate its baseline functions. Under Gov. Larry Hogan, the state has put millions of dollars into upgrades to the system of old existing equipment which are expected to be completed in two to five years.
I voiced my concern about the high cancer rate in the area. The Back River facility tests for toxic chemicals and heavy metals which include E. coli, PH, Nitrate, lead, iron, etc. which are done quarterly.
Oversight of the facility is the responsibility of the DPW Director of the Bureau of Water and Wastewater Maintenance. Staff shortages due to COVID and the lack of skilled CDL drivers, crane operators, electric engineers, and civil engineers have put a strain on the operation of the facility. However, water and sewage plants are a top concern for DPW. I asked about the elimination of the odor from the plant. This usually happens when there is a backup of sewage in the pipes after heavy rains. In the future, plant officials and I agreed to work together to resolve the issues at the Back River plant including a job fair.