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Environmentby Fern Shen4:56 pmMay 24, 20230

A collision of CSX locomotives causes Curtis Bay fuel spill, four days after Hawkins Point chemical leak

After the latest environmental mishap in this part of far South Baltimore, community leaders are calling on Governor Moore to declare the area “an air pollution emergency”

Above: A worker walks past the towering coal pile at the CSX transfer facility in Curtis Bay last year. (J.M. Giordano)

A collision this morning between two CSX locomotives in Curtis Bay caused a diesel fuel spill in a rail yard there, according to state officials who have not yet provided an estimate of the quantity of fuel released.

The spill occurred at the company’s facility at Chesapeake Avenue and 9th Street.

“The spill is contained on CSX property,” said Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). “There is no risk to the community.”

MDE is “pumping the remaining fuel from the fuel tanks that are leaking and transferring that fuel to other tanks,” while a contractor with a vacuum truck was cleaning up the spilled fuel, he added.

The early morning collision is the latest in a string of industrial incidents that have raised alarms in this South Baltimore community where homes are located in close proximity to heavy industry.

On Friday, a vacuum truck leaked 50-75 gallons of nitric acid at the W. R. Grace and Company facility at 5500 Chemical Road in Hawkins Point.

“Today’s train collision and resulting fuel spill at the CSX coal terminal in Curtis Bay comes just days after we called upon Governor Moore and MDE to use their authority to declare an air pollution emergency following an acid leak at Grace chemical,” the Community of Curtis Bay Association (CCBA) said in a statement released to The Brew.

“These events will continue to happen until our officials move beyond rhetoric and take action”  – Community of Curtis Bay Association.

A provision of state law empowers the MDE secretary to advise the governor when an air pollution emergency exists or is reasonably certain to occur.

The governor may then issue an executive order proclaiming an air pollution emergency and require the immediate elimination of the identifiable sources of air pollution.

“These events will continue to happen until our officials move beyond rhetoric and take action for environmental justice,” the statement released by CCBA Co-presidents Ray Conaway and Greg Sawtell said.

Moore Defers to MDE

Asked about the community’s request for him to make an emergency declaration, Governor Moore’s office did not respond directly, instead punting the request over to MDE.

Apperson said the administration received the request Friday evening “and is preparing a response.”

Meanwhile, the agency is defending its handling of the two most recent incidents.

“During an accident last Friday and one this morning, MDE senior leaders were in immediate and real-time contact with community members,” Apperson told The Brew.

“Both incidents were contained quickly with no impact to air quality in the community, and the public was informed that no emergency conditions existed,” he said.

Porter Disappointed

The 10th District’s City Council representative, Phylicia Porter, however, said she has continuing concerns about spills, leaks and accidents in the area and the community’s difficulty in getting prompt information about them from the companies and MDE.

Porter learned of last week’s nitric acid release from citizen postings on social media. She tweeted what she knew about the mishap, but then she and area residents were left in the dark for hours by official sources.

“My office took a pro-active approach to ensure that citizens knew something was going on, but this process needs to be looked at, and we are going to be talking to MDE about it,” Porter said.

Having another incident occur within four days has left her “disappointed.”

While today’s handling of the locomotive crash incident was better, Porter said, she plans to meet with MDE Secretary Serena McIlwain to discuss a risk mitigation plan and better ways to get reliable information out to residents about spills and accidents.

“We need a tiered approach, a structure for notification, a protocol,” she said.

Faulty Gasket

On Friday, information was eventually provided to Porter, the community and the media about what had occurred at the Grace facility.

“MDE’s emergency team got a call just after 7 a.m. from the Baltimore City fire department with a report of a nitric acid leak from a vacuum truck” at the Grace plant, Apperson told The Brew.

State officials and the city fire department determined that nitric acid had leaked from one of the truck’s gaskets.

“The truck was inside of a temporary secondary containment structure that had been set up as a precaution before the release,” Apperson said.

After the leaking gasket was secured, the truck was relocated to the facility’s on-site wastewater treatment plant for the remaining material to be neutralized and treated.

“Soda ash was applied to the spilled acid in the containment area to neutralize that material,” Apperson said, noting that “the facility or a contractor is responsible for cleaning up the spill.”

Explosion and Fatality

The nitric acid leak and today’s diesel spill were the latest accidents to add to the community’s concerns about their health and safety.

In December 2021, an explosion at the CSX coal facility blew out one side of the transfer facility, terrifying residents and sending a shower of coal particles onto lawns, cars and homes.

Cited by MDE for multiple safety violations, the rail company agreed in a settlement to pay MDE a $15,000 penalty and pay the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, a local nonprofit, $100,000 for community and environmental projects.

CSX was accused of failing to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent the explosion, which released harmful nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, MDE said.

Community members also sued CSX, saying the company’s negligence caused the blast.

 These incidents, coupled with the daily exposure to coal dust, and over 70 other sources of industrial pollution, have placed an unbearable burden on residents” – Community of Curtis Bay Association.

In March 2022, a fire at Petroleum Management Inc. in Curtis Bay resulted in the death of a 52-year-old employee, Earnest Cooper.

The early morning blaze at the plant, located in the 5200 block of Curtis Avenue, occurred as employees were working outside of the facility, fire officials said at the time.

Reciting these health-harming mishaps, the community association called on Gov. Moore to declare an air pollution emergency, noting:

“These incidents, coupled with the daily exposure to coal dust, pollution from the WIN WASTE incinerator (also known as BRESCO) – the city’s single worst stationary source of air pollution – and over 70 other sources of industrial pollution, have placed an unbearable burden on the residents of Curtis Bay and South Baltimore.”

Particulates accumulated on test strips after 21 days exposed to the air in South Baltimore's Curtis Bay. (Courtesy: Community of Curtis Bay Association)

Particulates accumulated on test strips after 21 days exposed to the air in South Baltimore’s Curtis Bay. (Courtesy: Community of Curtis Bay Association)

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