The Bay Program is moving to beef up its new toxics strategy by calling for an eventual “zero release” for toxic runoff, as well as for quicker chemical release reductions from industries and wastewater treatment plants.

The changes were made in response to more than 200 comments received on its draft basinwide toxics strategy, which is to be finalized this fall. Most comments generally supported the strategy and its development process, which included “stakeholder” forums before it was written, as well as a review of the draft by groups representing a wide range of interests.

“I think it’s a sign of a successful stakeholder process,” said Kelly Eisenman, toxics coordinator with the EPA’s Bay Program Office. “They asked us to strengthen the strategy, and we did.”

It is the first update to the Bay’s toxics strategy since 1994. It prioritizes actions on areas with known, or suspected, contamination problems, and on more than two dozen “chemicals of concern” which persist in the environment or accumulate in the food chain.

Beyond that, it calls for watershedwide pollution prevention efforts to reduce chemical releases in order to reduce future risks. As part of that, the strategy calls for an eventual “zero release” goal for toxics from point sources, such as industries and wastewater treatment plants.

While the draft strategy did not set dates for cleaning up contaminated areas or achieving zero release, it establishes a number of measurable goals to gauge progress.

Public comments generally supported the strategy’s overall approach — focused efforts on areas and chemicals of concern, with more general watershedwide reductions — but many suggested the specific milestones could be strengthened.

After reviewing the comments, the Bay Program is moving to strengthen several areas:

  • The draft had called for reducing discharges from point sources 10 percent by 2010 through pollution prevention and voluntary programs. The revised strategy calls for making that reduction by 2005, then determining whether a further reduction goal should be set. It also calls for reducing discharges of certain problem chemicals in areas with known or suspected contamination problems 15 percent by 2005, instead of the 2010 goal originally proposed.
  • The draft strategy’s original nonpoint pollution goal was criticized because it called for reductions to “eliminate toxic impacts on living resources” but failed to have the ultimate “zero release” goal for runoff that was set for point sources. Some argue that even small amounts of chemicals can have subtle impacts on resources. The revised strategy adopts the same “strive for zero release” language for runoff — largely for stormwater — as the point source goal. Specific milestones for the goal are still being developed.
  • The revised strategy also strengthens programs dealing with fish and shellfish consumption advisories. Previously, the strategy had called for a review of whether existing programs were adequate for making efforts to prevent or reduce chemicals responsible for consumption advisories.
  • It also calls for speeding up efforts to deal with “legacy pollutants” — contaminated sediments from past discharges that continue to plague many areas. It calls for hosting technical exchanges among scientists, managers and others to find ways to deal with sediments, and to launch targeted sediment remediation efforts by 2002. Although the 10 percent reduction from point sources may sound modest, industry and wastewater treatment plant officials contend they have already made sharp cuts in chemical discharges over the past decade. “That last few percent are hard to achieve, and usually at great cost,” said Jim Pletl, an environmental scientist with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

He said the 10 percent goal was acceptable, but would be difficult.

The chemicals targeted for reductions are the more than 640 listed on the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory List. According to the Bay Program, industries within the watershed cut releases of those chemicals 67 percent between 1988 and 1997.

Public wastewater treatment plants do not have to report TRI releases — the new toxics strategy is the first time those facilities have been involved with a Bay Program toxics goal. Those plants, which receive wastes from industries that don’t directly discharge into waterways, have had to ratchet down releases for years under other regulatory programs, Pletl said.

“We’ve had programs in place for so long that we’ve eliminated probably 95–99 percent of the loads that used to go to the Bay,” Pletl said. “Because of that, it is going to be very, very difficult for us to achieve much more reductions in toxics loadings without spending tremendous amounts of money.

“We can’t continue to depend on the point sources to solve all of the problems for the Bay,” Pletl added. “It has been well-documented that much of the current impact, the current loads that are going to the Bay, are due to nonpoint sources.”

Indeed, many comments on the strategy noted the disparity between goals for point source discharges and nonpoint runoff, especially from urban areas. Studies show that roads and parking lots collect large amounts of toxic chemicals from rainfall, urban pesticide use, spills, automobiles and other sources, then flush them into local streams.

Stormwater is now considered the main source of new toxics entering many polluted waterways, including the Bay Program’s three toxic hotspots: the Anacostia and Elizabeth river and Baltimore Harbor.

Adding “zero release” language is intended to emphasize the need to deal with nonpoint sources, but reaching the goal will be difficult, if not impossible. Traditional stormwater management practices — such as retention ponds — reduce, but do not eliminate, the effects of runoff from new development.

“The net result is an increase in the total annual load to receiving waters even with the use of conventional stormwater management, like stormwater ponds,” said Larry Coffman, who oversees stormwater programs in Maryland’s Prince George’s County and is considered a leader in developing innovative runoff control technologies. “The cumulative impacts of each new development — where the overall pollutant impacts are only slightly reduced — is still an increased net load to receiving water,” he said.

Treating runoff from existing development, especially old urban areas with little or no stormwater management systems, is even more difficult, Coffman said.

Nonetheless, he said, the Bay Program goal is laudable because it can drive the development, and implementation, of new runoff control practices. He has been experimenting with “low impact development” techniques that show up to 90 percent of the runoff from new development can be controlled by using innovative practices. By doing even more, runoff could be reduced to zero, he said. “We’ve done some studies that show with single family residential, we can get back below development levels.”

The Bay Program is still developing specific milestones for the nonpoint source goal. They are likely to include increased support for demonstration projects that showcase new control technologies, as well as additional emphasis on the three hotspots.

Highlights of Draft Toxics Strategy

The draft toxics strategy is a targeted approach to dealing with contamination. It focuses actions on the chemicals that pose the greatest threat and the regions facing the greatest risk.

Past Bay Program activities have identified specific “chemicals of concern” posing the greatest danger to the Bay, and the EPA has identified other chemicals posing overall environmental threats in its Toxics Release Inventory.

The Bay Program has also identified areas at various degrees of risk, including three hot spots, or “Regions of Concern” (the Anacostia and Elizabeth rivers and Baltimore Harbor), as well as 10 “Areas of Emphasis” which likely have problems.

At the same time, the strategy calls for voluntary pollution prevention efforts throughout the watershed to reduce potential threats and protect areas with no problems.

The goal is to achieve a “Chesapeake Bay free of toxics” by reducing inputs so there is “no toxic or bioaccumulative impact on the living resources that inhabit the Bay or on human health.”

Specific elements of the strategy include:

Taking restoration, protection & prevention actions

Objective: Through voluntary pollution prevention and restoration efforts: 1) restore impacted areas so they can support living resources and 2) protect areas with no problems for future generations.

  • By 2001, initiate technology exchanges among scientists, managers and engineers to find new ways of addressing contaminated sediments which can be applied in Regions of Concern. Begin implementing those technologies in 2002.
  • Prevent or reduce contaminants entering Regions of Concern by taking voluntary actions that go beyond point and nonpoint regulatory programs.
  • Conduct detailed assessments of areas that may be at risk to identify the amount and sources of pollution. Implement pollution prevention programs that go beyond regulatory programs to reduce pollution to those areas.
  • By 2002, develop strategies to prevent or reduce contaminants responsible for fish consumption advisories in the Bay and its watershed. In areas where advisories are caused by sediments contaminated by past activities, evaluate potential remediation measures.
  • By 2002, evaluate whether fish and shellfish monitoring programs and consumption estimates are sufficient. Also evaluate outreach components to make sure consumption advisory information is easily available and understandable to the public.
  • By 2004, assess major fishing areas in the watershed and issue consumption advisories where appropriate. Also identify any sub-populations who may be at particular risk from fish consumption.

Addressing point sources

Objective: Achieve the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement commitment of using pollution prevention and other voluntary means to strive for a zero release of chemical contaminants from point sources.

  • Phase out mixing zones for persistent or bioaccumulative chemical contaminants by 2010. Mixing zones are areas beyond the end of a discharge pipe where water quality standards may be exceeded as chemicals are diluted. Initial emphasis is placed on Regions of Concern, Areas of Emphasis, places with fish consumption advisories and other known problem areas.
  • By 2005, reduce by 10 percent Toxics Release Inventory chemicals from 1998 levels from wastewater treatment plants and industries. The goal is to be re-evaluated by 2005, with another goal set if feasible.
  • By 2005, reduce by 15 percent chemicals of concern from 1998 levels discharged into areas at risk. Similar reductions are to be made within 5 years for any additional impacted areas identified.
  • By 2002, establish educational programs for industries and residents discharging wastes to public and privately owned treatment plants, encouraging them to reduce chemical use.
  • Participants in the Bay Program’s voluntary Businesses for the Bay pollution prevention program will prevent 1 billion pounds of hazardous substances from being released between the years 1999 and 2005. Businesses for the Bay will expand to 1,000 participants (from about 250) by 2005, of which half will be small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Also, Businesses for the Bay will provide 300 “mentors” to help other businesses find ways to prevent pollution.
  • By 2001, the Bay Program, working with industries and other dischargers, will work to improve estimates of the amount of chemicals being discharged in the watershed.
  • By 2006, federal facilities will reduce chemicals of concern 50 percent in impacted areas and areas at risk.

Nonpoint Sources

Objective: By using pollution prevention and other voluntary means, strive for zero release of chemical contaminants from nonpoint sources.

  • Specific milestones are still being developed; but they are expected to call for improved measurements of chemical runoff, demonstration projects to control runoff in areas with contaminations problems, and support for programs that promote reduced pesticide use.
  • By 2010, reduce chemicals of concern from nonpoint sources discharged to Regions of Concern by 20 percent from a 2002 baseline.

Monitoring, assessments research

Objective: Improve understanding of how basinwide chemical contamination loads affect the Bay and improve monitoring, research and assessments to measure progress.

  • By 2005, complete the prioritizing of all areas of the Bay and its tidal tributaries based on their risk of toxic contamination.
  • By 2007, improve estimates of the amount of chemical contaminants entering the Bay from its watershed, and their sources.
  • By 2001, review the potential of animal agriculture to have toxic impacts on Bay resources.
  • By 2007, determine whether aquatic-dependent wildlife, such as waterfowl, suffer toxic impacts in the watershed, with particular emphasis on Regions of Concern.
  • Sponsor symposiums to explore regional, national or worldwide chemical contaminant issues, and develop new strategies if necessary.

Sustaining progress

Objective: Promote community-based management to protect and restore rivers, and increase the opportunity for citizens and decision makers to learn about how chemicals affect the Bay ecosystem. Anticipate ways to offset impacts of future changes, such as population growth and development, on the watershed and ensure unimpacted areas are protected.

  • By 2001, develop fact sheets for citizens, watershed organizations and decision makers that provide detailed information about issues in the strategy.
  • By 2005, work with stakeholders in 15 tributary watersheds to develop management plans that will eliminate and prevent toxic impacts, with plans for another 20 watersheds to be developed by 2010. Plans will provide information to citizens and decision makers, encourage integrated approaches for dealing with nutrients, sediments and chemical contaminants, and promote the protection and restoration of wetlands, riparian forests and other habitats that restore environmental quality.
  • Encourage advances in zero-release technologies, innovative and cost-effective nonpoint source controls, methods for dealing with contamination in sediment, and sound land use planning