Fecal matter pollutes Maryland waters

Posted at 8:57 AM, Aug 25, 2016

High levels of excrement found in Maryland rivers, streams and swimming holes are cause for concern in Baltimore City as well as surrounding rural areas.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation conducted bacteria tests in 40 Maryland streams and rivers over the summer. The organization found human and animal waste from leaking sewer and septic systems, pet waste and livestock manure. Chemicals from weed killer, lawn fertilizer and petroleum residue were also found. 

In addition to Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll, Frederick, Harford and Howard County waters were included in the testing. Most tests were conducted after storms, when the amount of polluted runoff entering waterways spikes.

"Clearly, several local governments have a problem with polluted runoff," said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. "This isn't an abstract problem. It puts the health of residents who swim, wade or come into contact with these waters at risk. Those governments need to work aggressively to reduce polluted runoff, and ensure the health of their residents."

White Marsh Run in Baltimore County had bacteria levels at least 400 times higher than safety standers allow after a rainstorm. The stream feeds into Bird River where people often swim and kayak. Glade run, a rural stream in Frederick County, had bacteria levels 324 times above safety limits.

According to health experts, swimming or ingesting bacteria-polluted water can cause a variety of intestinal illnesses. The Maryland Department of Environment says, as a rule of thumb, people should not come in contact with any natural water in the state for 48 hours after a significant storm, because of polluted runoff.

"Citizens need to contact their local and state governments and leaders to insist they take more vigorous steps to reduce pollution from animals in streams, failing septic systems and polluted runoff," Prost said. "Cleaning up our streams and rivers will reduce the chances of people getting sick from unhealthy water, and will provide other environmental and economic benefits. Downstream areas such as the Chesapeake Bay also will benefit."

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