Jaisal Noor reports on why residents and public health experts are fighting an incinerator being built in Curtis Bay, Baltimore’s most polluted neighborhood
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our look into concerns that the biggest incinerator in the country, being built right behind me here in Curtis Bay, will endanger the health of local residents here.
DESTINY WATFORD, ACTIVIST: It really scares me, because this project is going to cause a lot of pollution, and it’s hazardous to the environment, and our health is going to be affected.
MIKE EWALL, ENERGY JUSTICE NETWORK: Well, this would be the largest incinerator in the country, at 4,000 tons per day. It would be the first new incinerator built since 1997.
NOOR: We reached out to Energy Answers, the company behind the project, but they declined our repeated interview requests.
The experts we spoke to told us they’re especially concerned about the incinerator’s health impact, especially on children that go to the two public schools within one mile of the facility.
MICHAEL TRUSH, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR URBAN ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH: The main thing you’re concerned about with a lot of this particularly air pollution coming up is the impact of children and asthma.
NOOR: The most dangerous form of particulate matter is PM2.5, which is smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. It is also known as fine particulates. The city of Baltimore exceeds the federal guidelines for acceptable levels of fine particulate matter, and Curtis Bay has the highest levels of air pollution in Baltimore.v
According to the World Health Organization, “Small particulate pollution have health impacts even at very low concentrations … no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.” “Damage from particulate matter may not be known for 3-5 decades.”
A study published in the Public Library of Science warns that even short-term exposure to PM 2.5 particulate matter is “associated with hospital admissions for all respiratory, cardiovascular disease” for elderly populations. And a study published in The Lancet, one of the most reputable medical journals in the world, showed especially increased levels of fine particulate matter in air pollution was associated with increased hospitalizations and death due to heart failure.
Yet the state’s permit allows the Energy Answers incinerator to emit 153 tons of this fine particulate matter every year.
Mike Ewall, a leading anti-incinerator activist, works for the communities fighting dirty energy and waste facilities.
EWALL: Well, the Curtis Bay community is already one of the most polluted zip codes in the country. So it doesn’t make sense to be adding more pollution and somehow justifying it based on a reduction of pollution in another community.
NOOR: State and city officials declined to speak to us, but pointed us to a 19 page response to public comments authored by state officials.
On pages 7-8, acknowledging Baltimore is not in compliance with standards for PM2.5, the state requires Energy Answers “to secure emissions ‘offsets’ for PM2.5 emissions”–buy emissions reductions elsewhere to balance the emission of PM2.5 at their Curtis Bay facility. Combined with stringent pollution controls, the state argues “there will be no net increase of PM2.5 in the general area.”
EWALL: The concept of offsets is only to justify Energy Answers doing something that they ought not to be doing and pay someone else to do the right thing. Those offsets are not a legitimate way of dealing with pollution. They need to deal with their own pollution at the source.
NOOR: Energy answers and the state refused to say if they will seek offsets in Curtis Bay itself, and state law does not require them to do so.
According to a 2012 study by the Environmental Integrity Project, Curtis Bay ranks first in Maryland for emissions of air toxics. The emissions from this area constitute more than a third of toxic emissions in the state and nearly 90 percent of all toxic stationary source emissions in the City of Baltimore. The area has several coal-burning power plants and the country’s largest medical waste incinerator.
The study also notes that air quality monitors recorded the highest level of PM2.5 concentrations in Baltimore City in the area. The monitor was removed in 2008, and the state has refused to answer our questions about why it was removed. The state’s response notes, no regulatory standards exist for cumulative impacts, and such an assessment was not performed.
EWALL: Industries, when they get permits to pollute, do not have to go through any sort of process that looks at the fact that there may be other industrial sources polluting the same community. And it’s very important that we have protections for communities, so that we don’t end up clustering pollution in vulnerable communities like Curtis Bay–not that this technology would be appropriate anywhere.
NOOR: The Maryland Department of the Environment was unmoved when when presented with the testimony in this story, declining to respond, and instead referring the reporter back to the ‘response to public comments’ cited earlier.
For the next part of this story, we speak to Destiny Watford, a leader in the Free Your Voice youth group here in Curtis Bay. We also speak to Robert Bullard, considered the father of environmental justice.
From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.
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