Toxic Pollution in Baltimore Linked with Health Hazards

Media Contacts
Jenny Levin

BALTIMORE–Exposure to dangerous toxic pollution from industrial facilities threatens communities in Baltimore and across the country, according to a new report released today by Maryland PIRG.

The report, Toxic Pollution and Health, uses information from the federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) to analyze toxic pollution linked to serious health problems such as cancer, birth defects or neurological damage. Due to a recent EPA action restricting the public’s right-to-know, today’s report may provide one of the last complete pictures of toxic pollution in Maryland.

“This report confirms that communities across Maryland are routinely put at risk by toxic pollution linked to serious health impacts,” said Maryland PIRG policy advocate, Johanna Neumann. “These toxic pollutants are the worst of the worst and pose tangible threats to public health that must be addressed.”

In 2004, the Baltimore/Curtis Bay zip code ranked 13 th in the country for total air releases of toxic pollutants suspected to impair the human respiratory system. This pollution can cause a range of health problems from lung irritation, to asthma, to bronchitis and cancer. The largest source of this pollution came from the Brandon Shores/Wagner Complex power plant in Baltimore City , which released more than 11,540,702 pounds of respiratory toxicants to the air.

“While we are aware that air emissions contribute to lung disease and cancer, this report also brings to light agents that affect our nervous system,” said Dr. Michael Trush, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Center in Urban Environmental Health. “The incidence of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson disease and Alzheimers are increasing in our population. These diseases may be caused in part by neurotoxicants in the air we breathe and that’s why it is important to know what’s out there,” said Trush.

The federal Toxic Release Inventory is a public right-to-know program that requires industrial facilities to publicly disclose their toxic releases. In 2004, EPA reported that the TRI has helped to reduce toxic pollution by 57% nationwide since its inception in 1988. Despite this success, the EPA recently weakened the program by authorizing industrial facilities to withhold previously reported pollution information.

“To address the potential health threats from toxic pollution, we need full information about what toxics are being released, where, and in what amounts,” said Brenda Afzal, from the University of Maryland School of Nursing’s Environmental Health Education Center. “A reduction in the public’s right-to-know is never a good thing. It means that Maryland communities and the health care providers serving those communities will be left in the dark about toxic pollution.”

Representative Wynn recently challenged EPA’s rollbacks by introducing the Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act (H.R. 1055 and S. 595). This legislation would reverse the rollbacks to restore the lost data and ensure that communities have full and complete access to toxic pollution information.

“We call on the Maryland Congressional delegation to support the public’s right to know and protect Maryland’s communities by cosponsoring this legislation,” said Mary Rosso, a community activist and former state delegate.