Working in partnership with Chesapeake Legal Alliance, The Commons has successfully deployed the Maryland Violation Tracker, a web mapping application that visualizes permitted point source water pollution throughout the state of Maryland. Pulling publicly available data from Maryland Department of the Environment’s Open Data Portal, our team has mapped 9,288 permitted construction sites and permanent polluting facilities across the state. The application conveys compliance histories in the form of map symbology and table format from each facility dating back to July 2016. The data allows for exploration of current violations, resolutions, and compliance across the state. The MD Violation Tracker also provides watershed delineation and EPA EJ Screen’s wastewater discharge indicator base maps to help users contextualize the environmental and social impacts of wastewater pollution.
The data reveals a total of 37,986 inspection reports being completed by MDE from July 2016 to March 2021. Of these inspection reports, Maryland Violation Tracker shows 11,379 non compliance events, nearly one third of the total inspections, that consist of various environmental and health impacts. 824 of these violations have resulted in enforcement actions and 323 of the noncompliance events have been deemed as significant violations.
Interpreting inspection reports and communicating compliance status can be challenging. To solve this, our development team used clever map symbology to make the data easy to interpret at any scale. If a square symbol is shown, its size corresponds generally with the number of times that a site has been inspected by a Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”) inspector since July 1, 2016, (the earliest date in the Open MDE portal). The color of the square is determined by the past and present status of inspections of the permitted site.
- Green Square ‘No Issue’: each inspection resulted in a finding of “compliance”
- Half Green Square ‘Minor Issues’: relatively minor issues, such as one or a few inspections that result in findings on the MDE inspection report of “additional inspection required” or “compliance assistance”.
- Half Red Square ‘Significant issues’: Based on MDE inspection findings, such as a few findings of “additional inspection required” or “compliance assistance”, or a single past finding of either “noncompliance” or “corrective action required.”
- Red Square ‘Repeat Non-Compliance’: repeated findings by an MDE inspector of “noncompliance”, which may also include a current status of “noncompliance.”
- Diamond ‘Violation’: the site has been found in significant noncompliance by the MDE Water Compliance Program, with the color indicating whether the violation has been resolved or not.
- Star ‘Enforcement’: the site has had an enforcement action taken (e.g., penalties or a legally enforceable order) by MDE to resolve a significant violation.
Regardless of which symbol is present on the map, the user can click to see the latest entry and all previous data entries of inspection results, along with any significant violations or enforcement actions. We strongly encourage the user to proceed to the Open MDE portal for more information.
In addition to the compliance data, this tracker tool highlights communities affected by environmental injustices and the proximity of those communities to permitted locations releasing pollutants. The areas shaded in varying hues of red correspond to census tracts with a higher wastewater discharge environmental justice (“EJ”) index value, as determined by the methodology used in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EJSCREEN Mapping Tool. The scores are a composite of demographic data and proximity to federally regulated sources of wastewater pollution. The darker the shade of red of a particular census tract the greater the index score and consequently a community’s vulnerability.
When looking at facility status and the EJ wastewater indicator, there are some troubling findings. Although communities in the top 25th percentile for vulnerability contain only 20% of the permitted facilities and sites in Maryland, they have an outsized proportion of minor issues, significant issues, repeat non compliance, violations, and enforcements. Overall, permit holding operations in more vulnerable communities are 10% more likely to have some sort of issue. Unfortunately, this inquiry corroborates the reality that individuals in lower income and less white neighborhoods are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards.
To learn more, check out the application here!
For more information about the tracker or how to use it, please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about a particular site, please visit the Open MDE portal. For information about MDE enforcement and compliance activities, including annual reports visit the MDE Enforcement and Compliance site. For more information about EJ indices please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EJSCREEN: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool and please also visit the Maryland EJScreen Mapper Tool. The Maryland EJScreen Mapper Tool is a project of the University of Maryland School of Public Health Community Engagement, Environmental Justice & Health (CEEJH) lab, produced in conjunction with several state, federal, and academic partners. If you have a specific concern about your community or favorite waterways and how clean water permits and Maryland and federal clean water regulations might help, feel free to fill out this form to leverage Chesapeake Legal Alliance’s powerful mission to To apply the power of the law to protect and restore clean water and promote healthy, resilient ecosystems for communities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.