It is unfortunate that Albany-based Energy Answers informs the media it still plans to build its polluting incinerator in our Curtis Bay section of the city. This is despite inspiring efforts by students from Benjamin Franklin High School to organize their neighbors to oppose its construction and convince 22 municipal customers, including Baltimore City, to terminate energy contracts with the plant.
Incineration may violate the rights of people downwind to have clean and healthy air. Not one parent would choose to have an incinerator in their backyard emitting mercury, lead, fine particulate matter, heavy metals, dioxin and nitrogen oxides. Nor would they choose to have hundreds of diesel trucks come into their neighborhood daily carrying the waste. Diesel soot is a deadly pollutant full of fine particulate matter and known and suspected carcinogens.
A company spokeswoman disputing opponents, told a reporter "they talk about the deadly emissions and toxins that will come from the stack. Steam comes out of the stack. It's clean emissions and it is highly regulated." Yet construction was halted on the plant in June of 2014 because the company failed to retain offsets for tons of pollutant emissions.
This proposed incinerator is permitted to burn 1.46 million tons of waste yearly some of which will come from out of state. It will be permitted to emit 156 tons of fine particulate matter — linked to lung cancer, premature death and heart attacks — yearly; 446 tons of sulfur dioxide (contributes to formation of fine particulate matter and causes acid rain); and 601 tons of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen dioxide can cause reduction in lung function in children that will put them at risk for respiratory diseases for the rest of their lives, according to a report this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nitrogen oxides are a component of fine particulate matter and along with volatile organic compounds, 96 tons of which will be permitted yearly, nitrogen dioxide plays a major role in the production of ozone. High ozone levels increase the likelihood of new onset asthma in active young children, and are a cause of premature death from respiratory disease. It is one of the six major "criteria" pollutants for which levels are set by the EPA, and the one that Baltimore has had difficulty keeping within national standards. Energy Answers is also permitted to emit an incredible 1,000 pounds of lead and 240 pounds of mercury yearly — heavy metals that reduce IQ in neonates and children. The licensing agreement setting these allowances will be fully three years old by February 2016.
Children in Curtis Bay are already exposed to too much dirty industry (21226 is home to the highest level of stationary toxic emissions in the state). They will grow up breathing in even more pollutants if this incinerator is allowed to be built, toxics known to cause asthma, heart disease, neurological disease, lung cancer, disruption of endocrine function and loss of IQ.
There is another important issue here. For the calendar year 2011, Baltimore City had a lowly 27 percent recycling rate, and for 2013, it had dropped to 19.4 percent. Incinerators usually require suppliers to guarantee a certain amount of waste, which is a disincentive to recycling, reusing, composting and mindful purchasing of material. This city should aspire to be a leader, like San Francisco or Seattle, in recycling and moving to zero waste. The jobs this would generate would more than make up for jobs lost. A study by Friends of the Earth estimated that recycling per ton would generate 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. What we would teach our children about sustainability and a clean environment would make them proud of their city, just as the high school students at Ben Franklin have learned pride and leadership in their efforts to make Curtis Bay a healthier place to grow up.
Lets stand with the children of Curtis Bay and say to the Maryland Department of the Environment, "just say no" to another incinerator and another source of dirty air pollution in 21226
Dr. Gwen DuBois is an internist at Sinai, a member of the board of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and a member of the public health committee of Med/Chi. Her email is email@example.com.