MDE COVID-19 Update


​BALTIMORE, MD— In response to Governor Larry Hogan’s unprecedented actions taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,​​​ Secretary Ben Grumbles has implemented policies at MDE to limit in-person transactions and safeguard the health of its employees, stakeholders and the general public while protecting the environment and public health.

A large number of MDE employees are working remotely until further notice. During this time, MDE staff will continue to be available by phone and email.  Environmental inspectors continue to enforce and protect citizens while following CDC distancing guidelines. 
 
As part of the state’s strong response to COVID-19, Governor Hogan issued an executive order providing a grace period for any state licenses, permits and/or registrations that may be expiring or up for renewal during the state of emergency. Renewal deadlines will be extended up to 30 days after the state of emergency is lifted. More information is available from your MDE program contacts. 
 
This is a rapidly evolving situation, and the department will continue to maintain normal operations as much as possible. Information and updates on meetings will be posted on the department’s website and social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter​) as they become available. Any questions regarding specific programs or services provided by MDE should be sent to editor.mde@maryland.gov. 
 
For more information on the statewide response to COVID-19, please visit governor.maryland.gov/coronavirus​.
 


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Will the Maryland Department of the Environment continue to enforce environmental laws during the COVID-19 pandemic?
 
From Secretary Ben Grumbles:​ "Yes, Marylanders can rely on MDE to continue to demand clean air, land, and water, which are all essential in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, combating climate change, and reducing childhood lead poisoning. Due to the additional demands of responding to the current crisis, the department understands there may be a need to exercise some discretion and flexibility in enforcement of environmental regulations during the state of emergency, but this will only be done on a limited, case-by-case basis. All regulated entities must make every effort to comply with their environmental obligations and responsibilities, take steps to minimize the effects of any noncompliance and act to return from noncompliance as quickly as possible once the emergency ends. These obligations include monitoring and reporting requirements, which are integral to public health and environmental protection. Strong and transparent communications among MDE, regulated entities, and the public are essential to protect human health and the environment. Devon Dodson, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Secretary, is available at devon.dodson1@maryland.gov​ or 410-537-4499 to facilitate compliance or enforcement inquiries or suggestions within the office or throughout the department." 
  
Q. Can I still call MDE’s emergency responders to report an oil spill or other environmental emergency? 
 
Yes. The​ 24-hour emergency line is 1-866-633-4686 and is answered by MDE staff during normal business hours and the Maryland Joint Operations Center after hours, on weekends and on holidays. The number during normal business hours is 410-537-3975. 

 
Q. Are MDE’s offices open?
 
The agency’s central office in Baltimore City and field offices are closed to the public. All non-emergency essential MDE employees are working remotely until further notice. During this time, MDE staff will continue to be available by phone and email.

 
Q. If I want to discuss a permitting or compliance matter with the Air and Radiation Administration matter, who do I contact?
 
Contact Suna Sariscak at suna.sariscak@maryland.gov or 410-537-4129 for permits and Frank Courtright at frank.courtright@maryland.gov or 410-537-3241 for compliance. For all radiation matters, contact Eva Nair at eva.nair@maryland.gov or 443-615-2267.

 
Q. If I want to discuss a permitting or compliance matter with the Land and Materials Administration, who do I contact?

 
For all solid waste, hazardous waste, recycling and animal feeding operations permitting and compliance questions, contact Ed Dexter at ed.dexter@maryland.gov or 410-537-3376; for animal feeding operation questions, contact John Sullivan at john.sullivan1@maryland.gov  or 410-537-3314; for all oil pollution control or land restoration questions, contact Chris Ralston at chris.ralston@maryland.gov or 443-324-1699; for all lead poisoning prevention and other lead compliance questions, contact Shante Branch at shante.branch@maryland.gov or 410-537-3739; and for all mineral mining permitting and compliance questions, contact Molly Michaelson at molly.michaelson@maryland.gov​ or 410-537-3568. 

 
 
Q. If I want to discuss a permitting or compliance matter with the Water and Science Administration, who do I contact?
 
For both permitting and compliance matters, contact Arno Laud at arno.laud@maryland.gov​ or 410-537-4174. For more information about Water Quality Financing Administration water and sewer infrastructure projects, contact Jeffrey Fretwell at jeffrey.fretwell@maryland.gov​ or 410-537-3119 or Walid Saffouri at walid.saffouri@maryland.gov​ or 410-537-3757.

 
Q. Can I still receive asbestos inspector certification?
 
Any existing asbestos worker license is automatically extended per executive order.  New licenses, which first require training and a test to be passed, are unable to be issued at this time.

 
Q. Are meetings of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and other climate change activities by MDE continuing?
 
Yes. The MDE Climate Change Program and the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and its work groups have not missed a beat.  We continue to hold meetings on schedule, which are open to the public and advertised on the MCCC website.  They are held virtually now, via webinar or Google Hangouts. 

 

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MDE Exercises Enforcement Discretion Carefully

During the global pandemic, the Maryland Department of the Environment has exercised its enforcement discretion on a careful and limited basis. Protection of public health and the environment is the priority with each individual decision. The department, unlike the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, did not issue a broad, upfront policy on Covid-related leniency and that fact has helped significantly in reducing the number of Maryland entities seeking delays or waivers.

Most requests to date have asked for flexibility on the timing of monitoring reports due to the closure of facilities and reduction of staffing. A total of 63% of the requests submitted to the agency were for extensions of time to submit reports, 16% for digital reporting, and 6% for change of operating hours. A total of 72% of the requests have been granted, 16% denied and 12% are pending. The agency received requests from Maryland’s largest utilities – WSSC and the local jurisdictions Baltimore City and Baltimore County – for relief from their obligations under consent decrees to reduce sewage overflows. None of those requests have been granted.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is committed to compliance assurance and enforcement of relevant state and federal requirements. MDE has been in contact with the regulated community to respond to questions and provide feedback about permit requirements and compliance. In some cases, a failure to comply with a permit during the Covid-19 pandemic was referred to the compliance staff to enforce the conditions of the permit and Maryland law. These enforcement actions may have resulted in fines, additional inspections, or orders to take corrective actions to mitigate any impacts. Other requests have resulted in more effective and efficient communication between MDE and the regulated community. Digital reporting and signatures will now improve standard operating procedures. Some of the extensions sought relief for closed buildings. Sampling water in a closed school, for instance, is not useful, however, working with schools to ensure that drinking water is safe for returning students is an important way that MDE can support the state's reopening strategy.

Click here​ to view the requests and actions taken.

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Electronically Accepted Permit Applications

​For information regarding Electronically Accepted Permit Applications please click here.
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 ​Reopening Buildings: Water and Health Risks

Building closures during a pandemic reduce water use, leading to stagnant water inside plumbing. This water may be unsafe to drink or unsafe to use for other personal or commercial purposes. CDC and EPA recommend that building managers and owners become informed and take necessary steps to flush the building plumbing before reopening. A building reopening and flushing infographic is linked here.​

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Lead Rental Registration Renewals Due by 

Dec. 31​

The registration renewal requirement for certain rental properties constructed prior to 1978 is excluded from extension under the Governor’s executive order. The lead rental registration renewal will therefore be due by December 31, 2020, regardless of whether the state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency are still in effect at that time.​ Please click here to read the public notice.



 
 

Public Notice on Expanded Polystyrene Food Service Products Ban Deadline

MDE issued a public notice on June 11, 2020, that, as a result of the state of emergency related to COVID-19, it is necessary to extend the deadline by which schools and food service businesses must discontinue the sale or provision of food or beverages in expanded polystyrene (EPS) food service products under Maryland law by three months. This deadline will be extended from July 1, 2020 to October 1, 2020. The extension does not apply to the sale of EPS food service products, which continues to take effect July 1, 2020. As a result, food service businesses and schools may continue to use existing inventories of EPS food service products until October 1, 2020, but will not be able to purchase additional EPS food service products after July 1, 2020. This limited action by the state in response to COVID-19 does not affect or alter the effective date of a county or municipal law limiting the use of EPS products.

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Recycling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tips for Marylanders to Reduce Waste and Recycle while Staying Safe During the Pandemic

Keep Recycling

Generally, recycling services in Maryland are still being provided and you can continue setting your recyclables out at the curb or taking them to drop-off sites as you normally would. Solid waste and recycling services and facilities are considered part of the essential critical infrastructure and are allowed to continue operating during this time. In some limited situations, local governments have made temporary changes to recycling programs or facilities in order to protect public safety during the pandemic. As a result, it is a good idea to check your local government website for any updates, particularly before you visit a drop-off site.

Remember to Recycle Correctly

Many counties have seen increased residential waste as people are sheltering in place, getting more home deliveries, and working and eating at home. Because the generation of waste has shifted from certain offices and businesses to residences, it is especially important for residents to do their part in recycling correctly at home.
The following recycling practices should be remembered. They are especially important to help recyclers and local governments operate successful programs during times of increased demand.
  • Crush or flatten your recyclables when possible.This is especially important when recycling at drop-off locations. Local drop-off servicing schedules and bin sizes were designed for material loads when people worked outside home.  Crushing your materials will extend the amount of recyclables that can be contained without bins overflowing. Make sure to break down cardboard boxes. Do not leave recyclables on the ground outside of bins.
  • Only recyclable materials should go in recycling bins.Placing non-recyclable wastes in recycling bins can attract pests to drop-off locations.  In addition, contaminating recyclable materials with trash can increase risks to recycling personnel, increase processing costs, reduce the price counties get for recyclables, and result in some recyclables being discarded. Plastic bags, lithium batteries, and food do not belong in commingled recycling bins. Always check with your local government to see what materials are accepted in your program.
  • Properly dispose of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).Keep disinfectant wipes, gloves, masks, and other PPE out of recycling bins. PPE should be placed in a bag that is securely closed and discarded in your trash container.
  • Confirm proper procedures for dropping off bulky materials.With many people at home doing spring cleaning or home improvement projects, bulky waste and recyclables are on the increase. Check with your local government on hours, locations, and any safety protocols for dropping off bulky materials for recycling or disposal.
     

Explore Ways to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle at Home

Marylanders can and should continue to properly participate in local recycling programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are also ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle more material at home.
  • Consider starting a backyard composting bin.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn when mowing (“grasscycling”).
  • Plan your meals, shop, and store food to minimize food waste.
  • If you are doing spring cleaning, set aside any items that can be donated once donation sites are open, such as clothing and electronics.

Resources

Questions

Please contact the Resource Management Program at 410-537-3314.​
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Adjusting to COVID-19: Virtual Dam Inspections

Regular inspections of dams must occur throughout their lifetime to evaluate the structural and operational aspects of the structure, to identify and resolve problems, and to verify that the component parts are functioning properly. Maryland Dam Safety has been working to implement virtual inspection practices for inspection of construction and dams that are generally in good condition. The dam owner or his or her engineer will facilitate the virtual dam inspection using an online meeting platform like the preferred Google Meet.
The owner/engineer will then walk the dam, operate necessary components, and take necessary measurements while the Dam Safety inspector takes notes. The inspection can be guided by the Dam Safety engineer, who can call out particular locations that need closer views or follow-up in-person inspections. It is very important that the virtual meeting platform allow the inspection to be recorded. The recording of the inspection can be archived with the Dam Safety Division and distributed to all involved parties for review and reference. State license allows for recording.
This virtual inspection process also allows for participants at their home/office to review aerial imagery, old reports and old photos – which may actually enrich the inspection experience. Maryland Dam Safety staff are considered essential staff at this time – so in the event of an emergency or critical facility inspection, they can continue to make in-person inspections. All persons present during such inspections will be expected to adhere to CDC guidance for PPE. For questions, contact Arno Laud at arno.laud@maryland.gov​ or 410-537-4174.
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Ben's Blog - Thoughts from MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles
Coronavirus Testing All

BALTIMORE (March 24, 2020) – Each person, family, and community is being “tested” in how we respond to and cope with the COVID-19 crisis. The same is true for entire organizations, like MDE, the Maryland Department of the Environment.
 
Our 950-person department just completed its first week of mandatory teleworking and office closures, with about 95% of our employees teleworking part time and about 70% teleworking all the time, based on information received to date. It’s challenging us, including our human resources and information technology leaders, but we’re getting the job done as best we can and learning new skills while being inspired by heroic acts within and beyond the Department.
 
One of my favorite examples of rising to the challenge with creativity and collaboration: Governor Larry Hogan announced that several Vehicle Emission Inspection Program (VEIP) stations, while closed because of the pandemic, would be re-purposed for COVID-19 virus tests rather than tailpipe emission readings. We thank our sister agencies, the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration and the Maryland Department of Health, for leading this collaboration. We also thank the U.S. EPA for working with MDE to accommodate the temporary pivot under the Clean Air Act so as to make the best of a bad situation and advance an even more urgent type of testing for public health protection.
 
MDE emergency response and oil control team members are continuing to respond to spills and leaks, because accidents with hazardous materials don’t stop during inconvenient or dangerous times. We are also continuing our field presence with inspections, testing, and enforcement on the most mission-critical matters affecting Marylanders’ public health and environment. This includes monitoring for contaminants at water treatment plants, safety conditions at dams, and capacity issues at incinerators and landfills particularly as the amount of medical waste grows. Through it all, we must continue to put a priority on protecting the health and safety of our dedicated employees and their families.
 
We’re still open for business and looking for ways to improve customer service and environmental outcomes, but doing it increasingly from home with the help of laptops, iPads and other smart devices and cyber strategies. It’s all a clear sign the future of paperless, electronic permitting, reporting, certifying, and inspecting (what some are calling virtual inspections) will gain traction in the weeks and months ahead. Of course, right now, even with electronic technology, there’s no substitute for hands-on personal involvement and public engagement regarding certain permits, licenses, registrations or other governmental authorizations. We’ll be utilizing the Governor’s carefully crafted emergency order of March 12 to extend certain time frames for issuance or renewal of such governmental documents during the state of emergency, when necessary to do so.
 
In the category of “silver linings”: We also continue to measure our carbon footprint as part of our important work on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions to gauge the effect of widespread teleworking, reduced vehicle miles traveled, and other defining features of the COVID-19 crisis. The lessons we learn from robust teleworking and e-governance, while still fulfilling our environmental and public health mission, should help Maryland and other states, as well as EPA and Native American tribes, “modernize the business of environmental protection​.”
 
 
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Department of the Environment issues reminder: “No wipes in the pipes”

Disposable wipes, p​​aper towels should not go into the toilet, which can cause sewage backups and overflows​

 
BALTIMORE (March 25, 2020) – The Maryland Department of the Environment is reminding everyone that they should not dispose of wipes, paper towels or other products other than toilet paper by flushing them down the toilet. This reminder is being issued to prevent home plumbing problems, clogs in public sewer systems that could cause sewage backups into homes or overflows or damage to wastewater treatment plants and the environment. 
 
As toilet paper has been difficult to find in stores, some may be tempted to use other products and flush them away. The toilet is not the proper disposal venue for these other products, which should be thrown out in the trash.
 
Sewage overflows or backups into homes create a health risk due to increased levels of bacteria and disease-causing pathogens. Clogs can also do costly damage to infrastructure, including sewage lines and wastewater treatment plants.
 
“Communities in Maryland and around the country​ understand the value of our sewers and treatment plants and the fact that clean water begins at home with proper disposal of wipes and other materials,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.
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Analyzing Air Quality, Climate Change Data During COVID-19

Click here for the first update and here​ for the second update regarding findings in the Maryland/ D.C. area.

 
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