New bus depot helps correct an environmental injustice

We read with interest the July 24 article by Candus Thomson entitled "$40 million federal grant will help Baltimore replace aging bus yard." Our team has been working with the residents living near the Kirk Avenue bus yard for nearly 10 years. Over 30 years ago this bus depot was expanded without community input into a yard having over 200 buses. Several years ago, MTA presented to the residents their fait accompli plan for modernizing this bus yard, again without community input.

The presence of this bus yard has had a major impact on the health of the residents, particularly those on Bartlett Avenue. Many of these residents have died from cancer, and most of the children suffer with asthma. Exposure to particulate matter from diesel engines is well documented to contribute to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease and asthma.

Freida Morton, a community leader, has also documented excessive idling and noise associated with this bus yard. For many years, she was a voice in the wilderness, as MTA ignored her complaints, as there are regulations against idling and noise pollution. This entire situation created tremendous personal stress for residents. Those of us in environmental health are keenly aware that stress is a contributing factor in the development of chronic disease.

To MTA's credit, over the last several years it has reduced the number of buses, altered the bus parking pattern so as not to be as close to residents, and has replaced aging diesel buses with new hybrid buses. While these changes and the modernization of the bus depot will be a good development for new residents to this area, the impact on the health of those living there has already occurred.

In addition, another issue yet to be addressed is the large amount of bus traffic in the neighborhoods with buses stopping at the signal at the corner of Kirk and 22nd streets where children are walking to Cecil Elementary. This issue needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Quite simply, a bus depot should never have been located in a residential area, and generally they do not exist in non-minority, high socio-economic communities. This is an injustice. When such community imbalances cease to occur, when environment regulations and laws are followed, even by government agencies, and enforced, and when residents have true input, then there will be environmental justice.

Dr. Michael A. Trush, Patricia Tracey and Barbara Bates-Hopkins, Baltimore

The writers are the community outreach and engagement core at the Johns Hopkins Center in Urban Environmental Health.

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