March 16, 1998 -- Citing over 150 separate violations of federal clean water and right-to-know laws, a coalition of local and national environmental groups yesterday filed a complaint in federal district court against Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) for discharges of toxic chemicals into Sawmill Creek.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (NRDC), the Airport Environmental Coalition (AEC), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and US-Citizens Aviation Watch (US-CAW) charged Theodore Mathison, the Executive Director of the the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates BWI, with violating the federal Clean Water Act through its discharges of stormwater that is highly contaminated with airplane deicing fluids containing ethylene glycol and other toxic chemicals. The groups also are suing for violating federal Superfund and community right-to-know laws requiring it to report releases of these hazardous substances to federal, state, and local emergency planning agencies.

"The BWI airport is continually violating federal environmental laws and unfortunately the Maryland environmental agency has not moved aggressively to make them comply," said Peter Lehner, Senior Attorney at NRDC. "Large amounts of ethylene glycol and other pollutants are being discharged in the airport's runoff." Ethylene glycol is used as an aircraft and runway deicer and is acutely toxic to humans. Its appealing sweet taste attracts wildlife and companion animals, causing the poisonings of thousands of animals each year.

"Since BWI is not moving very quickly on its own to reduce its toxic runoff, we are asking the federal court to require BWI to expedite improved runoff collection and management systems," said Nancy Marks, Senior Attorney at NRDC. "We are emphatic that we are not in any way advocating reduced deicing or anything else that could compromise passenger safety. It is clear, however, that great environmental and public awareness improvements can be made while protecting flight safety."

Stephen Debreceny, President of AEC, said, "I and my neighbors have seen, smelled and felt first hand the impacts of this toxic runoff. A stream that drains BWI and runs through our neighborhood can have an unnatural froth, in places over four feet thick, and emit noxious fumes. We have had to suffer headaches, dizziness, and nausea after exposure. We hope this lawsuit will get BWI to clean up its runoff and also encourage others in the area to better protect our waters."

BWI's Clean Water Act discharge permit requires it to take steps designed to reduce or prevent discharges of stormwater contaminated with deicing chemicals. For the past several years, BWI has boasted of a $16 million "state of the art" reclamation system for deicing fluids. From the start, however, the system has been ineffective, in part because it can be used only when planes depart to the East. Over the past ten winters, planes at BWI have departed to the West about 80 percent of the time.

The environmental groups charge that MAA knew the system would be unused most of the time, and that MAA has failed to take steps required under its permit to improve the system, track usage of deicing chemicals, and prevent the violation of state water quality standards in local streams that are protected for swimming, fishing, aquatic life, and wildlife. According to airport officials, BWI conducts deicing operations between 80 and 120 days each year.

Under federal right-to-know laws, any facility, such as an airport, that releases into the environment over 5,000 pounds of ethylene glycol per day must report such releases to federal, state, and local authorities. Airplane deicing at BWI uses and releases vast quantities of ethylene glycol-containing fluid often over 100,000 pounds per day. Yet it is not reporting these releases to the federal, state or local governments from which it could be made publicly available.

The problem is not limited to BWI. In 1997, NRDC issued a report, "Flying Off Course: Environmental Impacts of America's Airports," which found that 45 out of 50 of the nation's busiest airports are located near water bodies. The report concluded that the massive amounts of chemicals used in deicing and other runway operations pose a significant environmental and health hazard for communities throughout the United States.

According to Jack Saporito, President of US-CAW, a Chicago-based national organization, "Airports across the nation have been knowingly poisoning our water supply for decades, causing serious and life threatening situations for people living near and downstream from airports."

"It is time to put a stop to this. This lawsuit should be a wake-up call to airport owners and operators nationwide. Flying is a privilege, but drinking clean water is a right," added Saporito.

The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore. The defendant has 30 days from service in which to respond.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 350,000 members including over 8,500 in Maryland, and offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Visit NRDC at our web site:

Airport Environmental Coalition is a not-for-profit environmental organization based in Linthicum, Maryland, with members living immediately downstream of and in the vicinity of BWI Airport.

The Humane Society of the United States is a national non-profit corporation with over 5,000,000 members and constituents nationwide organized to promote the humane treatment and welfare of all animals with an interest in the environmental toxins released by airports.

US-Citizens' Aviation Watch is a nationwide umbrella organization comprised of local airport environmental groups (including AEC), dedicated to protecting the public from the adverse environmental impacts of airports and representing hundreds of thousands of members nationwide, including approximately 2,000 close to BWI Airport.

Contact persons:
Nancy Marks, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 212-727-2700
Stephen F. Debreceny, Airport Environmental Coalition 410-850-9054
Colleen Dermody, Humane Society of the United States 301-258-3072
Jack Saporito, US-Citizens Aviation Watch 847-506-0670

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