The Poisoning of Chesapeake Bay

By Victoria Churchville
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 1, 1986; 12:00 AM

Every day, giant Bethlehem Steel Corp. dumps the equivalent of a small river sullied with tons of waste into the Chesapeake Bay's Baltimore Harbor. A few miles north, the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground discharges untreated wastewater tainted with explosives debris into the bay.

On the Eastern Shore, the sewage treatment plant at Easton spills out human waste that has been crudely treated in two slimy, green lagoons.

The wastes from Bethlehem Steel, Aberdeen and Easton, combined with those from about 5,000 other factories, military bases and sewage plants from Virginia to New York, are killing life in the Chesapeake. Almost all species of the bay's creatures are declining dramatically -- the annual oyster catch, for example, is down by two-thirds in a little more than a decade.

The decrease is attributable in large part to the accumulation of wastes in the bay, which traps them like a giant sink. Only 1 percent of the pollutants is flushed out to sea.

Runoff from farms and other areas has speeded the bay's deterioration.

Fourteen years ago, the federal government enacted a law designed to stop factory and sewage pollution of the nation's waterways by 1985. The Clean Water Act of 1972 gave state officials an important tool to use in enforcing the law: a system of permits limiting the amount of pollutants that individual dischargers could dump into any body of water.

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© 1986 The Washington Post Company