Baltimore Residents Face Potential Risks from New Incinerator

- by Jaisal Noor, May 27, 2014, The Real News 

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: This is Baltimore's Benjamin Franklin High. Will a the country's largest incinerator, being built just one mile from here, endanger the health of the students at the school?

The Energy Answers Fairfield Renewable Energy Project will burn 4,000 tons of trash, shredded tires, and cars each day.

Supporters say it will adhere to the strictest air pollution controls in the country.

PATRICK MAHONEY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ENERGY ANSWERS INT'L: We view this as a kickoff for the revitalization of this important industrial area.

ROBERT PERCIASEPE, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, EPA: It's projects like this that show the right thing to do for the environment is also the right thing to do for the economy. We don't have to choose between the two.

NOOR: But critics say existing regulations do not protect public safety. And even if the plant could stay within regulations, it could still endanger the community here.

DESTINY WATFORD, ACTIVIST: It really scares me, because this project is going to cause a lot of pollution, and it's hazardous to the environment, and our health is going to be affected.

NOOR: We take a look at the science behind the debate.

MICHAEL TRUSH, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: The main thing you're concerned about with a lot of this, particularly air pollution coming up, is the impact of children and asthma.

DR. SACOBY WILSON, ASST. PROF. MARYLAND INSTITUTE FOR APPLIED ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Environmental justice is talking about the disproportional burden of environmental hazards, unhealthy land uses on communities that are underserved, marginalized, and economically disadvantaged. And this community's been dumped on for years by various pollution sources [snip] that can be transferred to the placenta. It can be transferred through breast milk. It can have an impact on neonatal development. It can have an impact--little kids. It can have an impact across the whole life course. So that information's very important so people can be empowered and be informed and really fight against this, but also other pollution sources.

NOOR: We reached out to Energy Answers, the company behind the incinerator, but they declined our repeated interview requests. They did send us a statement saying they worked hard to, quote, "... ensure the facility will meet or be below the applicable State and Federal standards. We were impressed with the level of assessment performed by the Public Service Commission and other relevant agencies throughout the process and are confident that their determinations serve the public interests well."

State and city officials also declined repeated interview requests. We were directed to a 19-page response to public concerns authored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of the Environment.

They "concluded the incinerator can be designed to stay within permitted limits for toxic air pollutants". To ensure compliance, the incinerator will use Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for air toxics and emission limits on dioxin and other pollutants. It must also use continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) to show it always remains in emission limits for nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrochloric acid, and mercury. They also emphasized the facility's emission limits are more stringent than required by the federal Clean Air Act.

Ron Saff is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee and successfully fought against the construction of an incinerator there.

DR. RON SAFF, ASST. CLINICAL PROF. OF MEDICINE, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: What they say is we're using the best technologies available and that we're meeting all state and federal guidelines. But the point here is that the best technologies available aren't protective of human health. And the state and federal regulations are not stringent enough to protect human health.

NOOR: Opponents note even with emission controls the incinerator is still permitted to release hundreds of tons of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide. The plant is also permitted to release 240 pounds of Mercury. But if it releases more than 56 pounds, it's required to decrease mercury in the state's streams.

Again, Ron Saff.

SAFF: Science has now shown that for some populations there's no safe level of these pollutants. So for some populations, those who are most predisposed to particle pollution are infants and the very elderly and those with underlying heart disease. And science is now showing that there's, like, no safe level, which means that even a teeny, tiny amount can cause harm.

NOOR: Studies of long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution published in The Journal of the American Medical Association have found significant increases in lung cancer mortality even after taking individual behavior into account. Research published within just the past five months have found delayed neurodevelopment, adverse effects on lung development, and increased instances of pneumonia and ear infections among children exposed to air pollution of the kind that will be emitted by the incinerator.

Also of concern is the impact on the public schools located within a one-mile radius of the facility.

Michael Trush is deputy director of Johns Hopkins Center for Urban Environmental Health and director of Community Outreach and Engagement Core professor. He collaborated with the EPA to study air pollution in Curtis Bay. He calls it the ground zero for air pollution in Baltimore.

TRUSH: The main thing you're concerned about with a lot of this, particularly air pollution coming up, is the impact of children and asthma. If you're going to be putting out particulate matter, there's going to be nitrogen oxides and things of this nature, you have to be concerned about that with children, and those particularly that are asthmatics. Baltimore City in general has very high asthmatic rates. And the proximity to schools--what's the rationale to locating it there versus in other locations?

NOOR: Both Energy Answers and the Maryland Department of Environment declined our repeated interview requests.