Baltimore City
Health Department

Baltimore's Waters


Baltimore's harbor and waterways offer many opportunities for recreation and enjoyment. The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore launched the Healthy Harbor Initiative in April 2010, a strategy to create a swimmable, fishable Harbor by 2020. City residents and visitors should be aware of the following health issues:


While water quality is generally improving, the state has identified the waters of the Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco as having fish with elevated levels of mercury and other chemicals. The state has established fish consumption guidelines that should be followed by anyone who chooses to continue to use these waterways for fishing.

The Maryland Department of the Environment offers an extensive website on fish consumption in our area, providing guidelines for all citizens, including children and pregnant women. Please see the guidelines online at:


The Maryland Department of the Environment has not approved any beaches or waterways in Baltimore City for swimming, and there is no routine monitoring to ensure the safety of these waters for swimming.

Swimming in the harbor watershed area is not recommended. As with many urban waterways, contaminants may be present in the water that can cause illness. Symptoms could include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache. The risk of illness can be reduced by not swallowing any water. Individuals with weakened immune systems, the elderly, very small children, and people with open, uncovered lesions are at greater risk of potentially serious medical conditions. If you come in contact with water from the harbor or its waterways, wash the affected body part with soap soon after exposure and shower if necessary. Always wash your hands before eating.

If you develop concerning skin or stomach issues, you should contact your doctor.

It is important to know that the potential for problems with water contact increases after a major rain event. In the event of a significant sewage spill or other major contaminating event, the Baltimore City Health Department or the Department of Public Works will release special media advisories. The absence of such an advisory does not mean that the water is completely safe.


Because of the likelihood of contacting water, boaters should wash their hands with soap or alcohol-based disinfectant before eating and upon leaving the boat.


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