Baltimore, MD — Today, 1,500 homes and businesses in Baltimore remained under a water boil advisory for the fourth day in a row, after water quality test results released Wednesday evening from the Department of Public Works confirmed ongoing E. coli contamination in one area in the city’s water supply. Because of improvements, the city lifted the precautionary boil advisory for much of the impacted area, but the mandatory water boil order remains in place for areas in West Baltimore. The boil order began Monday. A map of affected Baltimore communities is available here.
The presence of E. coli bacteria indicates fecal contamination, posing serious public health risks including diarrhea, cramps, nausea and headaches; the greatest health risk is to infants, young children, elderly and immunocompromised individuals. The Department of Public Works advises boiling water for one minute to kill bacteria. Most standard household faucet filters and refrigerator filters are not certified to address bacteria contamination. The only filters certified to kill bacteria are UV filters (NSF/ANSI 55- Class A) and microbiological filters (NSF P231).
While the official cause has yet to be determined, Baltimore’s water crisis is compounded by the federal disinvestment in water and wastewater infrastructure, which has hamstrung the ability of communities nationwide to conduct preventive maintenance. Food & Water Watch research details the systematic gutting of federal funding for national water infrastructure by more than 77% since 1977. Federal relief in the 2021 federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Package provided a meager 7% of the identified need. Without federal support, cities like Baltimore are forced to rely on regressive water rate hikes. Baltimore water rates have increased 500% in the last two decades, leaving water bills unaffordable in more than half the city.
Baltimore’s public health emergency is not an isolated incident; residents of Jackson Mississippi were without water for more than a week and have been under a citywide boil order since July. As the growing threats from the climate crisis hit aging water and wastewater systems, with water and sewer pipes nationwide averaging 45 years old, incidents like those in Baltimore and Jackson are increasing, with harm concentrated in communities of color and low-income communities.
Food & Water Watch Baltimore Organizer Rianna Eckel with the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition issued the following statement:
“The water crises we are seeing today in majority Black communities like Baltimore and Jackson are the direct result of decades of federal disinvestment and structural racism. We must hold all levels of government accountable for their role in restricting access to the most basic of human rights — water.
“In Baltimore, we demand answers from DPW about the cause of the contamination. Until our water is clean, the agency must ensure that everyone impacted by this water crisis has enough safe water to drink, clean, and prepare food until this is remedied. Mayor Scott must take accountability and enact proactive solutions to improve communications about public health crises and prevent this from occurring again. At the state level, we urge the Maryland Department of the Environment to allocate funding to Baltimore and to do all within their power to speed up the turnaround time on testing results, to keep our communities as informed as possible.
“At the federal level, Congress must pass the WATER Act to fully fund our water and wastewater systems nationwide, and mitigate the burden on communities already struggling with unaffordable water bills. The federal government must restore its commitment to safe water and provide water justice to communities from Maryland to Mississippi. Every person needs and deserves water that is safe to drink, cook with and bathe in.”
Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]