Speakers said it time and again last night – and they always got applause.
“This part of the Chesapeake Bay has become a dumping ground,” Ann Wayne said, testifying at a public hearing in Curtis Bay on a trash-to-energy incinerator that an upstate New York company wants to build in nearby Fairfield.
Wayne, who grew up “on Popland Street, less than a mile from here,” recalled the dirtiest spots – places in this isolated southeast Baltimore peninsula where parents worked and, nearby, children played.
“There was DuPont Paints, there was the rendering plant … and contaminated Curtis Creek – we’ve all been able to smell that,” she said.
Wayne has since moved to the Sun Valley community, just over the city line in Glen Burnie, but she explained why she joined incinerator opponents at the meeting. “A lot of my friends died of cancer. I have a respiratory problem,” she said. “I’m coming back in their name.”
Her husband Ronald Wayne, who also grew up in this once-bustling blue-collar community, agreed that an incinerator would worsen environmental conditions that are already poor: “I remember my mother every day sweeping this debris off the porch – this yellow dust.”
Quietly Listening, Confronted Anyway
Opposition was the theme for pretty much all of the speakers who addressed this gathering of about 70 people – a hearing held by the Maryland Public Service Commission on the proposed 160-megawatt Fairfield Renewable Energy Project.
No one rose to speak from Energy Answers Baltimore LLC, the company seeking permission to build the facility – though project manager Kurt Krammer was in the room taking notes.
Watching silently were several audience members who represent other potential stakeholders in the politically plugged-in project.
Howard Libit, the chief operating officer of Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs, was there taking notes on a laptop “on behalf of some energy clients,” he said.
Also present was Andy Dize, president of the Community of Curtis Bay Association, which has supported the incinerator.
Likewise Robert Catlin, executive director of the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition (the local non-profit community development corporation) was in the room, listening.
In 2009, on behalf of the coalition, Catlin’s predecessor, Carol Eshelman, negotiated an agreement with Energy Answers lending support to the project in return for a promise that truck traffic would be routed around the neighborhood, donations would be made toward a scholarship fund and toward projects such as a picnic area or boat ramp in the park.
The agreement specifies company payments to the Coalition (as well as the Association and a third group, Citizens for a Better Brooklyn Inc.): $50,000, the first year of construction, escalating by$10,000 each year up to $100,000.
“Shame on a community organization, selling out for a couple of picnic tables,” said Kelley Ray, of northeast Baltimore, confronting Catlin after the hearing ended. Ray, a leader in the fight against the Pulaski incinerator in the 1990s, acknowledged that Catlin “inherited” the situation with Energy Answers.
“I sympathize with you, but that is total bullshit,” Ray said. “Shame on them.” Catlin responded evenly: “talk to Carol.”
Later, talking to The Brew, Catlin said “I have no position on this. It’s for the people who actually live here to say.” Dize, meanwhile, sought to minimize the importance of his group’s position: “It’s only 35 members out of 1,800 households!”
Both later expressed skepticism about talk of an industry-caused cancer cluster in the area, saying existing truck traffic and residents’ smoking habits are probably more to blame.
One local at the meeting last night, Curtis Bay activist Linda Stewart (aka Water Bill Woman), said she has distanced herself from those groups because of their stand on the issue. “I am not in favor of this” project, she told The Brew.
Mercury, Soot and Lead
Under the permit, the plant would be allowed to burn 4,000 tons of material including ground-up tires, wood waste and shredded auto waste (vinyl, plastic and metal.)
Speakers last night pointed to what they said were the likely health effects of the incinerator at the annual emission levels allowed under its Certificate of Public Convenience and Need [CPCN] with the PSC.
These levels include: 240 pounds of mercury, 147 tons of fine soot, 601 tons of nitrogen oxide, 446 tons of sulfur dioxide, 265 tons of municipal waste combustor acid gases, 1,000 pounds of lead and 140 pounds of cadmium.
The soot particles would be of a size “so fine they would penetrate to the deepest part of the lung,” said Greg Smith, of Community Research, one of the environmental groups opposing the facility.
Wes Stewart said the added lead from the incineration could reverse years of progress that had been made toward lowering levels of lead in Baltimore’s children.
The number of city children found to have harmful levels of lead in their blood has dropped from 13,000 per year in 1993 to 530 more recently, said Stewart, director of program services at the National Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.
“Those 500 children every year who are still being poisoned suffer from learning disabilities, lowered IQ, attention deficit,” Stewart said. “The CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] currently says there is no safe level. And now we’re talking about a project that’s going to dump tons of additional lead into the environment?”
Diana Dascalu-Joffee of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), said it is a violation of the federal Clean Air Act for the plant to be excused from using adequate nitrogen oxide control technology and from having to stay within the limits for mercury emissions during start-ups, shut-downs and malfunctions.
“It is unconscionable for such a dirty industry to be permitted” by the Public Service Commission and Maryland Department of the Environment,” said Gwen Dubois, a Sinai Hospital physician.
“You can’t blame a company for trying to make money,” Dubois said, “but we depend on government” to protect the public.
“The Armpit of Baltimore”
Many speakers talked about the cumulative impact of years of industrial activity in the Curtis Bay/Brooklyn area.
Several referenced a March 2012 report by the Environmental Integrity Project that added up the toxic emissions from factories and businesses in the Curtis Bay zip code and found that they were the highest in the state and accounted for 90 percent of the Baltimore city total.
The 2.2 million pounds released in the area in 2010 ranked it 74th in the nation, among the 8,949 zip codes reporting toxic emissions, the report said.
Longtime Cherry Hill activist Michael Middleton put it bluntly:
“You’ve been treated as the armpit of the city,” he said, adding that his nearby community shares that dubious distinction.
Living as they do in the shadow of the Baltimore RESCO Wheelabrator trash-to-energy plant, many in Cherry Hill have trouble breathing and suffer from higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, he said.
“When the wind blows,” he said. “It comes to you.”
Last year, MDE fined Wheelabrator Baltmore $77,500 for exceeding mercury levels at the plant, a point Dan Lemkin, of Roland Park, raised.
That amount is “asinine,” Lemkin said. “They have absolutely no incentive to be custodians of the environment.”
In addition to such human costs as more cases of childhood asthma, he said, the facility’s financial costs to Baltimore would be serious as well:
“Property tax [revenue] will go down because people like me are not going to want to live in an ashtray.”
Hearing examiner Dennis H. Sober said the PSC was accepting comments on the project until Sept. 14. Several speakers asked for additional time for comments and for another public hearing to be scheduled.
The PSC case file (#9199) on the proposal can be found here.