A new toxics strategy that calls for eventually achieving a “zero release” of chemical contaminants from discharge pipes as well as runoff, has won final approval from the Bay Program.

The Executive Council — which includes the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the EPA administrator, and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures — signed the “Toxics 2000 Strategy,” which has been under development for two years, in December.

“This is a big day for us,” said Kelly Eisenman, toxics coordinator for the EPA’s Bay Program Office. “Can you imagine a day when point sources are not discharging into the air, water or land? Can you imagine a day when industries don’t have to apply for discharge permits? I actually can.”

The ultimate aim of the strategy is to work toward the Bay Program’s long-term goal of a Bay “free of toxics.” It is the first rewrite of the Bay Programs toxics strategy since 1994.

The strategy recognizes that the most noticeable toxic impacts are focused on specific areas, and directs much of its attention on those sites. But it also calls for basinwide action to curb the release of toxic chemicals to protect clean areas, and to reduce the potential risk from low levels of pollutants — something that has received less study.

Because toxic releases are already regulated by state and federal law, the strategy — developed with input from industries, wastewater treatment plants, environmentalists and others — emphasizes the use of voluntary efforts, such as pollution prevention programs, to meet its objectives.

Besides calling for the ultimate “zero release” of chemical contaminants, it seeks to emphasize efforts in three contaminated “Regions of Concern” — the Elizabeth and Anacostia rivers and Baltimore Harbor — and in a handful of other areas around the Bay with suspected contaminant problems. It also focuses efforts on the chemicals which pose the greatest threat to the Bay, such as those that bioaccumulate in the food chain or persist for long periods of time.

There is no deadline for meeting the broad “zero release” goals, but the strategy lays out a series of measurable objectives to prompt movement toward the larger objectives.

Among them:

  • A phase-out of mixing zones — an area beyond the end of discharge pipes where contaminants are allowed to exceed water quality standards as they are diluted — for chemicals that bioaccumulate or persist in the environment by 2010.
  • Achieving a no-net-increase of chemical contaminants from developing lands by 2010. This means new efforts will have to be made to control runoff from new development, and offsets will have to be found for any new contaminant loads that reach waterways.
  • Reducing by at least 20 percent by 2010 the releases of the more than 600 chemicals on the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory list from industries and publicly owned wastewater treatment plants.
  • By 2005, in Regions of Concern and areas with suspected contaminant problems, discharges of the Bay Program’s “chemicals of concern” are to be reduced 15 percent from industries and wastewater plants.
  • By 2010, reduce runoff of chemicals of concern in regions of concern by at least 30 percent.
  • Implement innovative stormwater management control systems in existing developed areas where stormwater contaminants are not currently controlled.
  • Monitor areas unimpacted by contaminants to detect any “early warning signs” of problems.
  • Develop strategies by 2002 to prevent or reduce chemical contaminants responsible for fish consumption advisories in the Bay and its watershed. Also by 2002, programs aimed at monitoring finfish and shellfish contamination will be updated to determine if they are adequate. Effectiveness of outreach efforts related to fish consumption advisories will also be re-evaluated.
  • Increase participation in the Bay Program’s pollution prevention initiative, Businesses for the Bay, from about 250 to 1,000 businesses. By 2005, participating businesses will prevent the release of, or recycle, 1 billion pounds of hazardous substances.

For Information

The toxics strategy is available on the Bay Program’s web site, www.chesapeakebay.net

Recent articles in the Bay Journal about the toxic strategy include: “Great Lakes Ban some mixing zones, broader Bay action pending,” December 2000; “Revised toxics strategy targets contaminated runoff,” November 2000; “Bay Program strengthens parts of toxics strategy,” “Highlights of the draft toxics strategy,” October 2000; “Bay Program, businesses, seek ‘zero release’ toxic pollution goal,” July-August 2000.