High levels of human and animal fecal material found in Maryland waterways

Kilgore Falls in Harford County, Maryland being tested. (Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff)

Tests run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have revealed that there are large amounts of bacteria from human and animal fecal matter in rivers and streams across Maryland.

This summer, the CBF monitored the water in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford and Howard Counties as well as Baltimore City, where they found bacteria levels above government safety levels on multiple occasions.

“It’s been discouraging. We had no idea that there was this much pollution in the water,” Pete Terry of Baltimore County said in a press release. Terry's home is on Bird River, which is fed into by White Marsh Run, a stream where CBF tests found about 400 times more bacteria than deemed safe after a storm on August 2.

“It’s getting to the point where we are so very concerned when we have company or when we have children in the water," says Terry’s wife Janet. "We are hesitant to now allow them to go in."

According to the CBF's statement on the test results, health officials say drinking or swimming in bacteria infested water can cause "intestinal illnesses, including stomach aches and diarrhea."


Officials from CBF say that polluted runoff from all this summer's rain is one of the reasons for the high levels of excrement bacteria in the water thanks to leaking sewer and septic systems.

“Clearly, several local governments have a problem with polluted runoff,” Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF says in a statement. “This isn’t an abstract problem. It puts the health of residents who swim, wade or come into contact with these waters at risk. Those governments need to work aggressively to reduce polluted runoff, and ensure the health of their residents.”

Other significantly affected areas were Glade Run, a stream where children swim that goes through Walkersville Community Park in Frederick County and Cascade Falls, a favorite swimming spot Cascade Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County. Glade Run was tested after a storm on June 16 and registered bacteria levels 324 times above the safe limit while Cascade falls had levels 304 times higher than is deemed safe.

“Citizens need to contact their local and state governments and leaders to insist they take more vigorous steps to reduce pollution from animals in streams, failing septic systems and polluted runoff,” Prost says. “Cleaning up our streams and rivers will reduce the chances of people getting sick from unhealthy water, and will provide other environmental and economic benefits. Downstream areas such as the Chesapeake Bay also will benefit.”

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