Blue Water Baltimore intends to sue vinegar company accused of Jones Falls discharges

Published on: January 17, 2023 7:05 PM EST|Updated on: January 23, 2023 3:13 PM EST

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Blue Water Baltimore on Tuesday filed a notice of intent to sue Fleischmann’s Vinegar, alleging the plant in North Baltimore is still illegally releasing pollutants into the Jones Falls.

The pollutants include an acetic acid discharge “seeping out of the wall itself right into the stream,” said Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor waterkeeper for the environmental nonprofit. The vinegar plant is located next to the stream with no shoreline, so pollutants fall directly into the water, she said.

Along with acetic acid, Blue Water Baltimore’s samples sent to third-party labs found heavy metals in the water and pH levels of 3.72, which is more acidic than normal streams, according to the notice of intent to sue. Normal streams have pH levels around 7.5.

Volpitta said the vinegar plant came on her radar in September 2021 after a Woodberry resident walked his dog on the Jones Falls Trail just south of the facility and complained of a strong vinegar smell and saw dead fish in Jones Falls.

Blue Water Baltimore investigated the site and found more than 1,000 dead fish in the water, Volpitta said. She alerted the Maryland Department of the Environment, and MDE’s investigation concluded that chlorinated cooling water, used for the vinegar plant’s operation, was falling into the stream, according to a Sept. 13 report. MDE found the vinegar plant to be noncompliant.

Last May, after Fleischmann’s made multiple facility improvements, state inspectors found no violations and did not see any pollutants being discharged into the water, according to MDE records.

In October 2022, the same resident who made the initial complaint reported seeing dead fish again and smelling a strong vinegar scent, Volpitta said. MDE inspected the site in November, and found it to be noncompliant after collecting low pH water samples from pipes that discharge into the stream.

Although Volpitta documented pollutants in the water, she cannot directly link them to the fish kill.

In a written statement, a Fleischmann’s Vinegar spokesperson confirmed the company received the notice from Blue Water Baltimore on Tuesday.

“Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company takes its environmentally responsibilities extremely seriously and has been working closely with the Maryland Department of Environmental Protection and the City of Baltimore to ensure that the site in Baltimore remains compliant with the Clean Water Act,” the spokesperson said. “The company is reviewing the allegations and is not in a position to comment further at this time.”

Chesapeake Legal Alliance is representing Blue Water Baltimore in the case. Senior attorney Angela Haren said that the federal Clean Water Act requires that a notice letter is issued and that alleged violations are resolved within a 60-day period. If the plant does not resolve the alleged violations after 60 days, they will file a complaint in federal court.

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Jay Apperson, MDE’s deputy communications director, said work to bring the vinegar plant into compliance is ongoing.