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Feb. 8, 2021 by Darya Minovi

Baltimore Sun Op-ed: Legislation Needed to Protect Maryland Well Owners

This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun and was co-authored with Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County).

If you’re one of roughly 2 million Marylanders whose drinking water comes from a private well, you or your property owner is responsible for maintaining the well and ensuring its water is safe — no exceptions. That’s because federal clean water laws don’t cover private wells or small water systems, and state-level protections vary dramatically. In Maryland, those protections are few and far between.

In a recent Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) report on state-level efforts to protect private well owners, Maryland ranked among the five states with the fewest protections. Unlike other states, Maryland doesn’t offer well owners free or low-cost water testing kits or require water quality test results be disclosed during property sales. While the state does require new wells to meet certain safety thresholds, this policy falls short because it doesn’t ensure that well water will stay safe over time.

One key well water contaminant: nitrates. Nitrates form when nitrogen breaks down, and they can pollute groundwater when fertilizer or manure is mismanaged or over-applied to fields. Since they are odorless, colorless and tasteless …

Feb. 2, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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Last week, I joined Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County) and State Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Carroll and Howard counties) to discuss pollution threats to the state’s drinking water and legislation that, if enacted, would create a private well safety program in Maryland.

The quality of drinking water holds personal significance for both legislators. Stewart grew up in a small Alabama town where a Monsanto chemical factory knowingly dumped toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemicals in the local water supply. He has since developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer associated with PCB exposure — twice.

Hester has also confronted this issue. When she moved to Ellicott City a few years ago, she discovered that hazardous levels of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas associated with lung cancer, were leaching into her home’s well water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate radon, so homeowners like …

Oct. 22, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Earlier this month, Congress overwhelmingly passed America's Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE). The legislation's dozen-plus conservation initiatives include reauthorizations for important programs that help protect the Chesapeake Bay and wetlands across the country.

Among other provisions, the legislative package authorizes $92 million in annual funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay Program through 2025, a $7 million annual increase. The program provides funding for states, local governments, and other partners to take measures that improve Bay water quality, and it also helps coordinate restoration efforts in the watershed. While Congress has appropriated funds to the program every year since it was created in 1987, its authorization expired in 2005. This reauthorization and increase in funding are a good sign for the future of Bay cleanup efforts, provided, of course, that Congress follows through with appropriations at the authorized level.

ACE also established a …

Oct. 21, 2020 by Darya Minovi, Katlyn Schmitt
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Dangerous nitrate pollution has contaminated the groundwater that supplies private drinking water wells and public water utilities in several agricultural regions across the United States, posing a significant threat to people's health. A new report from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) indicates that this problem has reached Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore, an area that's home to hundreds of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and millions of chickens.

Nitrates are a compound formed when nitrogen, largely from manure and fertilizer, breaks down. When manure is overapplied or mismanaged, rainfall or irrigation can cause nitrates to trickle down through soil into groundwater resources. Tainted Tap: Nitrate Pollution, Factory Farms, and Drinking Water in Maryland and Beyond notes that a single poultry CAFO raising 82,000 laying hens can produce 2,800 tons of manure a year, more than three times the amount produced by the Maryland Zoo in …

Aug. 5, 2020 by Darya Minovi, Katlyn Schmitt
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In July, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) released the findings of a new ambient air quality monitoring project focused on the state’s Lower Eastern Shore. This effort was announced more than a year ago as a partnership between the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI), a trade group for just what it sounds like, and MDE to monitor ammonia and particulate matter emissions from industrial poultry operations.

The number of registered poultry CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, in Maryland has increased from seven in 2009 to 544 today, and the vast majority are located on the state’s Lower Eastern Shore. For years, residents have complained of foul odors emanating from nearby CAFOs, in addition to nausea, eye and throat irritation, and respiratory ailments. These symptoms are consistent with exposure to high levels of ammonia — a compound emitted when chicken litter breaks down, making it a …

July 21, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recently issued a general discharge permit that covers pollution from most livestock farms, including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), across the state through July 2025. Unfortunately, the permit, which went into effect on July 8th, will likely jeopardize the 2025 nitrogen reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) and does not align with Maryland’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) commitments.

Roughly 95 percent of Maryland’s animal farms are located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, so it is important that they are adequately regulated under the general permit – both so that local water quality can be protected and so the state can meet its pollution reduction goals under the Bay TMDL.

Circumstances under which Animal Feeding Operations Require Permit Coverage

These types of general permits serve two primary purposes: (1) they satisfy the requirement …

June 18, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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A blog post published last month by the Chesapeake Bay Program, a collaborative partnership focused on Bay restoration, addressed the many ways that the climate crisis will affect farms in the region. Data from the program shows temperatures on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, home to a high concentration of industrial poultry farms, increased between 2 to 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, between 1901 and 2017. By 2080, temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are projected to increase by 4.5 to 10 degrees, posing a serious risk of heat stress to farmworkers and livestock.

As the post discusses, rising temperatures can hurt farms in several ways. Warmer temperatures make for a longer growing season, which may temporarily promote higher crop yields but can also stress water resources and result in additional fertilizer application, which is not what the doctor ordered for the Bay’s nutrient …

June 11, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt, William Andreen
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We are five years out from the final 2025 deadline for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement, known as the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). With the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each of the Bay states has finalized the three required phases of their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). This month, those states have released their draft 2020-2021 milestones, which, when final, will set out the key short-term goals states will work toward, stepping up their restoration work so that they can stay on track to meet their final 2025 pollution reduction goals.

Even though these five-year milestones play an important role in the accountability framework for the Bay TMDL, the WIPs serve as the main vehicle for comprehensively outlining how each state will achieve their commitments. Even the EPA has stated that the WIPs are the "cornerstone" of the Bay TMDL.

Despite …

May 18, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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In recent weeks, as a result of cramped conditions and inadequate protections, several U.S. meat plants have closed due to coronavirus outbreaks among workers. In one particularly stunning instance, a Tyson pork processing plant in Perry, Iowa, shut down after 730 workers (58 percent of the plant's workforce) tested positive. New data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the virus spreads at more than twice the national rate in counties with major meatpacking plants. The United States now faces a meat shortage, a direct result of a broken food system – one that is built to reliably feed the bottom line of industrial agriculture at the expense of public health.

Despite the chaos, federal agencies’ responses seem to favor industry over worker and consumer health. In March, the Food and Drug Administration postponed in-person inspections at factories, canneries, and poultry farms, then in April gave a number …

May 4, 2020 by Rachel Micah-Jones, Matt Shudtz
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This is an excerpt from an op-ed originally published in the Baltimore Sun. You can read the full op-ed here.

President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to order meat and poultry plants to continue operating despite COVID-19 outbreaks, exposing Maryland's poultry workers to enormous risks. Poultry processors haven't demonstrated they're able to keep workers safe and healthy, but they know that many of these low-wage workers will be forced to return. To top it all off, one of the president's goals with this order was to provide legal immunity to companies, so that they can't be sued by employees who are infected as a result of unsafe working conditions.

All the risks cascade down onto the workers. Many are from immigrant backgrounds and don't speak English. They're also exempted from vital protections, federal relief packages, and can't access COVID-19 treatment and care. We're standing in …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 8, 2021

Baltimore Sun Op-ed: Legislation Needed to Protect Maryland Well Owners

Feb. 2, 2021

CPR Report Fuels Legislation that Would Create a Well Safety Program in Maryland

Oct. 22, 2020

A Funding Win for Chesapeake Bay Clean Up Efforts

Oct. 21, 2020

New Report Finds Dangerous Nitrate Pollution in Maryland Drinking Water

Aug. 5, 2020

Industry-Sponsored Air Monitoring 'Study' Provides No Assurances for Marylanders Living Near CAFOs

July 21, 2020

A Missed Opportunity for the Bay TMDL: Maryland’s 2020 General Permit for Livestock Farms

June 18, 2020

The Climate Crisis and Heat Stress: Maryland Farms Must Adapt to Rising Temperatures