Science & Technology



Environmental groups grateful but vigilant after Key Bridge collapse

Christine Condon, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Science & Technology News

BALTIMORE — When Alice Volpitta watched the video of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, and the trucks tumbling into the Patapsco River in the darkness, she thought first for the people who had fallen.

And as her mind raced, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper thought of the river.

“What’s on that ship?” thought Volpitta, of environmental nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore.

As it turned out, the massive container ship that struck the bridge carried more than 1 million gallons of fuel and 4,679 shipping containers, 56 of them filled with hazardous materials.

But, for the most part, two weeks after the collapse, environmental advocates are breathing a sigh of relief.

Cleanup officials have maintained the wreck doesn’t pose an environmental threat, and have kept existing fish consumption restrictions the same for that section of the Patapsco. They’ve been testing air and water at the collapse site periodically since the wreck. The first rounds of water testing from the crash site, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, show no evidence of fuel or hazardous materials leaching into the river from aboard the ship.


“It could have been a lot worse,” said Bill Dennison, a marine science professor and interim president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

In the initial days after the collapse, officials did report a visible sheen on top of the water near the ship, and crews deployed thousands of feet of protective booms. At the time, authorities attributed the sheen to a possible fuel discharge following the collision.

Dennison, who has spent time at the Unified Command center coordinating the collapse response as an adviser, said he heard the sheen could have been a small amount of “hydraulic fluid from the ship’s bow thruster.”

“It’s a very contained, small leak, considering the magnitude of what was carried on the ship,” Dennison said. “They were ready to go to Sri Lanka. They had a full load of fuel.”


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