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ENR (202) 616-2771 TDD (202) 514-1888

COURT APPROVES SETTLEMENT THAT WILL OVERHAUL BLUE PLAINS WATER TREATMENT PLANT WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A federal court has approved a settlement requiring the District of Columbia to upgrade the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant to prevent illegal discharges into the Potomac River, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

The agreement, approved by Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., settles allegations that the District failed to operate and maintain the treatment facilities, in accordance with a permit issued by EPA, in violation of the Clean Water Act. In 1995, the EPA inspected the plant and found that conditions at the facility were deteriorating.

Under the agreement, the District will take steps to improve the way it operates and maintains the facility, launch a $20 million effort to upgrade the facility's water treatment equipment, and ensure that the plant does not discharge high concentrations of chemical pollutants and harmful microorganisms into the Potomac River. As part of the agreement the District will rehabilitate the pollution holding tanks and overhaul the outmoded sludge dewatering facilities.

Excess discharges of ammonia, nitrogen, chlorine and certain microorganisms could significantly damage aquatic life. Inadequately treated sewage can increase the health risks for people who use the river for recreational uses like boating, fishing and swimming.

The Court ruled that the settlement is fair, reasonable and in the public interest, and found that "the terms of the Agreement contribute to the restoration and maintenance of the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's water."

"The Court has confirmed that this agreement will protect the public health and the environment along the Potomac River," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The District stepped up to the plate and did the right thing to improve the Blue Plains treatment plant."

Michael McCabe, EPA Region III Administrator, said "The Court's decision removes a major question mark hanging over action needed to upgrade and improve the operation of Blue Plains. To the District's credit, they didn't wait for this decision. They moved ahead to comply with the terms of the agreement and plant operations have improved."

Steven A. Herman, EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said "This is a big step forward for the necessary rehabilitation of Blue Plains. Judge Hogan's ruling assures that the District of Columbia will continue to take the necessary steps to improve the facility and protect the environment and the public health of the citizens of the Washington Metropolitan area."

The Blue Plains facility treats all wastewaters discharged into the sewer system of the District, as well as parts of Maryland's Montgomery and Prince Georges's Counties and parts of Virginia's Arlington, Loudon and Fairfax Counties.

The agreement, approved late Friday, was filed by the government last April.