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City of Baltimore filing lawsuit against tobacco companies because of cigarette filter waste

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CBS News Baltimore Live

BALTIMORE - The City of Baltimore is filing a lawsuit against tobacco companies for cigarette filter waste.

City leaders say the lawsuit is to "hold cigarette manufacturers accountable for cleanup costs associated with tobacco product litter."

Baltimore officials said millions of cigarette filters are littered throughout Baltimore, and they "pollute the soil and water and create a huge cleanup burden for the city."

Baltimore officials say the city spends more than $32 million annually to collect upwards of 2,600 tons of litter, including an estimated $5.3 million spent mitigating cigarette filter litter.

"This is the first litter lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers, and Baltimore is proud to lead the way in ensuring that these companies pay for cleanup costs that for decades they have offloaded on communities like ours," Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said.

Officials claim cigarette filters look like cotton but are actually cellulose acetate-based and non-biodegradable.

According to a study by the University of California at Berkley, when discarded on the ground, cigarette butts can leach toxic cigarette additives like heavy metals, ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene into the water and soil. The chemicals these non-biodegradable filters release can remain in the environment for decades.

Officials say Baltimore's Department of Public Works provides trash disposal services in the city, but its budget has been stretched thin by the millions of dollars spent clearing sewage and drainage pipes of clogs from cigarette filters.

"The same tobacco companies that for decades failed to acknowledge the health risks of their products are now refusing to take responsibility for cigarette butt waste," said Baltimore City Solicitor James L. Shea. "We believe this lawsuit will hold Big Tobacco accountable for the damage its product causes to the City's streets and waterways."

The City uses the infamous "Mr. Trash Wheel" to scoop up waste in the water, which you will typically see docked in Canton.

Data from collections by the wheel was included in the lawsuit, Shea explained.

"The numbers nationwide are 175 million pounds of cigarette butts per year and in Baltimore alone, our trash wheel has captured over 12 million cigarette butts," Shea said. 

Officials say Baltimore's lawsuit seeks to recover expenditures and losses resulting from cigarette filter litter in the city, including cleanup and disposal costs, damage to natural resources, diminution in property values, loss of revenue, and substantial fines for dumping their litter in the city.

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