Study says Curtis Bay, Brooklyn among MD's most polluted areas

The Curtis Bay and Brooklyn neighborhoods in industrialized South Baltimore are among the most polluted in Maryland and even the nation, says a Washington-based environmental group, which is calling for tighter scrutiny of air quality there and curbs on diesel truck emissions.

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Integrity Project says the Curtis Bay zip code has the highest toxic air pollution from businesses and factories in the state, accounting for more than a third of all such emissions in the state and nearly 90 percent of of Baltimore city's total.  The neighborhood's emissions also rank 74th highest among all 8,948 zip codes nationwide, according to the group's report.

Residents of the neighborhoods, which are sometimes called the Baybrook area, are among the most likely in Maryland to develop respiratory problems from the toxic air pollution in their community, according to the group's report.  One census tract is also among the top 10 percent for cancer risk from air emissions.

Leah Kelly, a lawyer with the environmental group, says pollution is coming from diesel trucks streaming through the neighborhoods to reach factories and businesses in the area, from port facilities and from traffic using the harbor tunnel nearby.

Deaths from heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and lung cancer in the Curtis Bay-Brooklyn area are all higher than average for the city as a whole, according to city health department data. Many factors could be affecting those rates, though, including diet and smoking.

Air quality has improved significantly in the past few years, the group says, largely because of pollution controls installed at two nearby coal-burning power plants.  However, the report says a lack of air monitors in the area makes it difficult to assess the extent of pollution there, and its likely health effects. 

The  only monitor for soot, or fine particle pollution, was removed in 2008, the group says, meaning there is no up-to-date information on emissions linked to increased risks of dying from heart disease and other health problems. There is no monitor in the area, either, for ozone, or smog, which can trigger or aggravate respiratory problems.

The EIP report calls for increased air monitoring of the area, greater regulatory attention to the existing air quality problems when deciding whether to permit new industries there, limits on truck traffic and reductions in diesel and coal-dust emissions from nearby port facilities.

To read the report, go here.

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