This image of Sparrows Point steel mill was taken in 2007, when the massive site was still operating. Photo: Jeff Kubina/Wikimedia Commons

EPA to Prioritize Pollution Cleanup on Bear Creek Near Sparrows Point Industrial Site

There’s promising news for Bear Creek on the Patapsco River. The area near the former Sparrows Point steel mill is rife with contaminated sediments linked to Bethlehem Steel’s Tin Mill Canal, where wastewater and stormwater from iron and steelmaking operations were conveyed dating back to 1950.

The sediment includes contaminated like PCBs, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel zinc, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Bear Creek includes residential areas, and people who use its waters of Bear Creek for recreation and fishing or crabbing for their dinner could be putting their health at risk.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to Maryland leaders recommending Bear Creek be added to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) for pollution cleanup. The NPL is a list of priority sites with releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants that need evaluation and possible remediation.

The 60-acre area of contaminated sediments is off the northwest shore of Sparrows Point, near where Bear Creek and the Patapsco meet. EPA’s initial offshore sediment investigations were paid for with $3 million in liability settlements from the former Bethelehem Steel site’s current owners, Tradepoint Atlantic. The company worked with Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and EPA under a 2014 consent order to clean up the on-shore portions of the 3,100-acre Bethlehem Steel site, and MDE says the progress has been extensive.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles welcomed the acknowledgement of Bear Creek as a federal priority. “The proposed listing of the Bear Creek Offshore Sediments Area on the NPL represents the next logical step toward remediating the effects of historic industrial operations and restoring the environment at Sparrows Point for the benefit of Marylanders,” Grumbles wrote in a response obtained by Bay Bulletin.

10 percent of the remedial action and maintenance that result from EPA’s National Priority List would be paid for by the state of Maryland.

With the state’s support, EPA will propose the Bear Creek addition in August 2021, followed by a 60-day public comment period and public information session. The public outreach is a big priority for MDE. Grumbles writes, “we will seek opportunities for MDE and EPA to engage with surrounding communities on the proposed listing to provide information, answer questions, and seek input.”