By Charles R. Wolpoff and M. Jane Taylor
WASHINGTON – A high concentration of manufacturers helped make Baltimore and surrounding counties the region with the most toxic industrial pollution in Maryland.
From 1989 through 1993, the latest year for which the Environmental Protection Agency released data, industries in that region spewed almost 53 million pounds of toxins into the air, water and land.
The region includes heavily industrialized communities in Baltimore County and northern Anne Arundel County near the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay. Also included in the region are Howard and Harford counties.
Of the 20 manufacturers in Maryland most responsible for toxic releases during the five-year period, 15 reside in the region, a Capital News Service analysis of EPA data showed. Four of the top five are in the region: Quebecor Printing, Bethlehem Steel Corp., SCM Chemicals and W.R. Grace & Co.
Western Maryland ranked second in toxic pollution emissions from manufacturers, the analysis revealed. About 21 million pounds of toxins were released there during the five-year period.
It was followed by the Eastern Shore, with about 4 million pounds, and the Washington-area counties, with less than 900,000 pounds. Counted in the Washington-area tally were Prince George’s, Montgomery and Charles counties.
In line with reductions throughout the state, the Baltimore region saw a drop in toxic emissions of about 36 percent during the five-year period.
Baltimore City, which had more pollution than any Maryland county, dropped from 6.7 million pounds of toxins in 1989 to 3.8 million in 1993.
Donald Torres, Baltimore’s assistant commissioner of environmental health, said industries in the area are law abiding.
“All of the industries are in compliance or approaching compliance,” he said. “Industry is finding out it’s not only being good neighbors, but it’s good business.”
But, Torres added, “The more one reduces, the harder it is to continue reducing. … As you get rid of elephants, it’s harder to get rid of ants.”
Government officials and citizens’ groups agree that progress has been made in tackling toxic pollution. But residents in polluted areas express frustration that more is not being done.
Jan Ramsay, president of the North Point Community Coordinating Council, said the air and water are cleaner now than 10 years ago. The council represents communities in the Sparrows Point area.
But Ramsay said the state does not respond to citizen complaints “unless they’re under a great deal of pressure” from citizens.
“We’ve had to fight for everything,” she said. “Some of the businesses want to be good neighbors. Some do not.”
Some environmental groups and county officials blame poor development practices for much of the area’s pollution problems, and they fault the state and its agencies for failing to enforce compliance with environmental regulations by business and development.
David Monsma, an attorney with Environmental Action, a nonprofit educational and advocacy group, said Baltimore and state officials have an attitude that is pro-business and pro- development.
Maryland legislators hold the threat of job losses over the heads of citizens who are concerned about environmental issues, Monsma said. Baltimore residents need more grassroots organization, he said, to counter that attitude.
But Quentin Banks, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said economic development and environmental protections are not “mutually exclusive.”
Nevertheless, some government officials say citizens are willing to incur some environmental damage in exchange for jobs.
“Most people are aware that when you have jobs, particularly industrial jobs, there’s going to be some compromise of the environment,” said Louis DePazzo, a Baltimore County councilman.
“Better a short, good life than a long, bad one,” he said. “It’s what people expect … a good way of life for the working class.”
DePazzo said Bethlehem Steel, in particular, has a history of being a good neighbor.
But DePazzo said there is a problem with industrial pollution. He said he is not happy with the state’s response, and with MDE in particular.
Banks said MDE “would rather encourage compliance than use punitive enforcement measures.” He added the agency “will not hesitate to use the enforcement tools provided … when necessary.”
Western Maryland, the region with the second highest toxic pollution from manufacturers, is the site of Westvaco – the state’s top point polluter during the years studied.
The Allegany County-based paper producer emitted more than half of the region’s 21.2 million pounds of toxins during the five years, the EPA database showed.
Western Maryland also includes Garrett, Washington, Carroll and Frederick counties.
Walter Finster, director of environmental health for Allegany County, said Westvaco has “implemented a number of pollution control processes over the last 25 years.” Finster said, “It seems to me concerns of the citizens are seeing more jobs created and brought back into the area.” -30-