Lawmakers and Advocates Call for Lowering Toxic Emissions from Local Incinerator
Critics say the lax emission limits allow the incinerator to emit over 1,000 tons of dangerous Nitrous Oxides a year
Jaisal Noor: So, I’m Jaisal Noor for The Real News Network. We’re live at Baltimore City Hall. You’ve just seen a live press conference where city council members and community leaders are calling for the lowering of emissions from the BRESCO incinerator, which is right in downtown Baltimore. So, we’re going to talk to some of the advocates that have gathered here about why they want to lower these emissions. They’re focusing on nitrous oxides right now, NOx emissions, which contribute to ozone and smog. Baltimore has a high level of asthma rates, as many inner cities do. This is an issue of environmental justice. These conditions mostly face low-income communities, communities of color in Baltimore and other cities around the country. We’re going to speak to some of the community leaders that have gathered here.
E. Reisinger: The city of Baltimore has to wake up because this really affects the citizens, the residents of the city. Especially, the minority and I know that Westport, which is right across the street from the incinerator have to breathe this. But it’s not just the communities like Lakeland and Mount Winans and Westport, but it’s also Cherry Hill, depends on which way the wind blows. You’re talking about Curtis Bay-Brooklyn, north, south of the city. So, I’m going to be talking to the mayor and to the president city councilman, we will.
M.P. Clarke: He’s a co-sponsor.
E. Reisinger: We will. And Baltimore’s got to wake up to this issue.
M.P. Clarke: This resolution is chapter one in our continuing efforts to significantly reduce the health hazardous level of nitrogen oxide emissions from Baltimore’s major incinerator. From 2013 through 2015, BRESCO’s nitrogen oxide emissions were 162 through 169 ppm. I actually can tell you what that means, but don’t ask me. It’s a measure, a standard. Among many health standards of such highly charged emissions is the effect of worsening symptoms of asthma, contributing to Baltimore city’s highest asthma level in all of Maryland and representing one of the chief reasons for frequent and extended school absences and even failure throughout the Baltimore City Public Schools.
D. Watford: Breath is life for all of us and yet, depending on where you call home, in a city that we love the air that we breathe isn’t the same. In my community, in Curtis Bay, in south Baltimore, just in the past two weeks there’s been two major incidents: an acid plume and a massive warehouse fire. Both terrible headline news. Both involving air pollution right next to our community, our schools, our parks. While these incidents create terrible anxiety, unfortunately, they don’t surprise us because our home in south Baltimore is also the home of Baltimore’s worst air polluter and each and every day, the city’s worst source of toxic NOx emissions, the BRESCO trash burning incinerator.
J. Alston: I’m probably the only person in the room who lives the closest to BRESCO, like less than a half a mile. Have been a resident of Westport for nearly 50 years. So, in the course of many decades, Westport has served as the brunt of environmental waste and pollutants for decades. The dynamic has been a sacrifice for many generations of elders who came before me and worked in Westport in some very toxic environments. The hope for them at that time was to obtain a viable income and provide for their families. I’m sure you understand that.
Well, there is a popular saying that goes, “If I knew then what I know now…” If I knew that BRESCO would carelessly exceed NOx emissions with no real notification to the community on whom’s doorstep it sits. If I knew that very few Westport residents, if they had so chosen, would have had first choice with employment at this facility. If I knew no home site fees would ever see its way to the community who deserved it the most. If I knew a generation of elders who endured so many sacrifices would disappear right before my eyes, while wondering had BRESCO not occupied the space in the community, would we have been privileged to see a few more years of their lives? If I knew then, what I know now, BRESCO would not occupy any space in Westport.
R. Jones: I am so glad today that these measurements have been taken to get BRESCO to heed to the requirements or hopefully shut the plant down. I have seen that jobs, health is more important than jobs. And looking at my community in Curtis Bay, the amount of pollution that’s in the air and if was an incinerator there, it would be twice as much damage into the residents that live there and we have a lot of respiratory problems there and I don’t know what the percentage of respiratory problems they have in Westport but I can totally imagine all of that emissions being dismissed in the air.
R. Dorsey: On behalf of the true leaders here, the advocacy involved in Baltimore city, I am just so proud to have an opportunity to be on this city council and to be able to take a back seat to the strong work that is happening in the streets, in the community and in a lot of people’s dedicated free time and every day lives to bettering the quality of life and as Destiny so well put it, “Breath is life.” Air is life. If the air is not the same in one place as another, then we are accepting that life just cannot be the same in one place as the next.
D. Swinton: The focus of this particular resolution is based on NOx emissions in relation to ground level ozone. However, moving the incinerator into these new requirements is only a part of the process. We also want them to install new pollution controls for mercury, lead and otherwise. This is just one step in the big picture of getting them to be accountable for all these emissions as they are the largest air polluter in regard to mercury and lead, as well as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxides in the city.
N. Seldman: The city of Baltimore, there is plan yet. A lot of people are working on it. But there are Pieces of Zero already existing in this city. I’ll just give a couple of examples. We have Second Chance. In 14 years, they’ve created 165 jobs. Most of those jobs are coming from people who have been unemployed, underemployed or just out of incarceration. There’s Camp Small, which is one of the best urban programs in the country, where the city is turning fallen trees into good products for the wood industry, composting mulch. That was all financed by a city loan, which is being paid back while they’re saving the city. There are many other composting programs going on-
Speaker 10: Compost.
N. Seldman: -collection of organic material from Baltimore’s businesses and households is the fast growing market. Much moreso that DC. We’ve got at least three companies coming and two companies from Baltimore collecting this material from schools. So, Pieces of Zero are here and we’re going to thread them together and get to zero waste and lots of jobs.
Speaker 10: Thank you.
J.T. Bullock: I really appreciate also all the activism because this really relies on communities to actually play their part. I’m hopeful, though, that we can have some productive conversations with industry representatives, as well, because I think it’s important that we don’t talk at cross purposes, we work together for really comprehensive solutions.
D. Swinton: Wheelabrator in Baltimore, also known as BRESCO, has been around since 1985. It is the largest polluter in the city. It accounts for about 37% of all air emissions here. Now they did install pollution controls at the turn of the 21st century. However, they’re still number one. They’re three times worse than the second worst polluter, which is Grace Davison here. But, they’re the number one emitter in nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides as well as carbon monoxide and mercury and lead and these are types of emissions that lead to behavioral issues, that can cause damage to reproductive systems, that cause chronic respiratory disease, increase lifetime risk of stroke, heart disease and things of that nature.
So, if we’re going to move the city forward, we have to remember that incineration is not waste to energy, it’s a waste of energy. It’s not the most effective way of actually creating energy. If we wanted to go in that direction, we need to believe in more sustainable practices, whether that be creating solar farms, or that be more energy efficient based policies in Baltimore city. We don’t need Wheelabrator to be a primary source of power. There’s no reason for that, when in actuality, we’re dealing with a lot of harm, more harm than good from this facility. Not only that, we also budget up to 10 million dollars just to burn trash at that facility. That could be money that could’ve utilized to build the green facilities what would take its place as well as hire the people that would construct and manage that facility. So, if we want to believe in zero waste, we have to realize that Wheelabrator is not renewable and is not a part of that picture.