Baltimore’s two wastewater treatment plants have been releasing large quantities of partially-treated sewage into rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay for about a year without detection. The pollution was finally spotted by a nongovernmental environmental organization that monitors water quality, Blue Water Baltimore. It took Blue Water reporting it to Baltimore’s Department of the Environment for any state inspectors to even take notice.

Baltimore has an old, falling-apart wastewater system that is already subject to a federal consent decree to stop sewage overflows by 2030. So, even before this latest revelation, Baltimore had already been facing a sewage environmental crisis! And because the city has a very high poverty rate and is largely dependent on local taxes, it lacks the resources to adequately deal with these problems.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S. In other words, it is a vast body of water where freshwater rivers meet the saltwater ocean, acting as an enormous ecological meeting ground of diverse environments. On top of global heating, which is raising the water level of the bay and poisoning agricultural land along its shores, this sewage pollution is an additional disaster for the ecosystem.

Inspectors visiting one of the wastewater treatment plants found that problems had clearly been going on much longer than a year. They learned that only two out of 76 operators had passed their test to have a license. The rest were working on temporary licenses, seeming to feel under no pressure from management to pass the test! In other words, the system is not set up to succeed.

Effective sewage treatment is a fundamental part of a healthy society’s public health infrastructure. In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, there is no excuse for those who run the public and private sector not to marshal the resources to support basic public health. When the politicians talk about spending on infrastructure, the question of sewage treatment is something that they need to take into account. They need to look for the money where it is – in the hands of the One Percent!