By Karen Carstens and Asmaa Malik
WASHINGTON – Maryland manufacturers have dramatically reduced the amount of toxic chemicals they spewed into the state’s air, land and water in recent years, government data reveal.
State industries reported releasing more than 13 million pounds of toxic chemicals in 1993 – 43 percent less than the 23 million pounds emitted in 1989, an analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data revealed.
Over the five-year period, Baltimore and its surrounding counties topped the list of Maryland regions for toxic pollution emissions. But that region and all others in Maryland showed a drop in toxic releases during the period.
The Allegany County-based Westvaco, a paper manufacturer, released the most toxic chemicals of any company in the state. But Westvaco also followed the statewide trend, reducing the amount of toxins it released during the period studied, Capital News Service’s computer-assisted analysis showed.
Bill Reilly, EPA’s regional Toxics Release Inventory coordinator, said the drops in pollution resulted from increased government efforts and “surrogate regulators.” More and more businesses and consumers judge companies based on their environmental performance, he said.
“It pays for them to make the reduction,” Reilly said. “Years ago, when there was no regulation, there was no incentive to not pollute.” Now, he said, “they want to be viewed as good companies.”
Economic concerns are also a factor in companies’ clean-up efforts, Reilly said.
“It really does affect the bottom line,” he said. “It’s the total quality concept: if you don’t do this, you’re not going to be competitive in the next 10 years or so.”
Owen Kean, a spokesman for the 185-member Chemical Manufacturers Association, said “the pressure is on to run a tight ship.”
He added: “Companies are making an effort to be as efficient as possible. And that means reducing emissions.”
But Dan Pontious, executive director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said more needs to be done.
“Release numbers can be reduced, but that’s not practicing pollution prevention,” Pontious said. “True pollution prevention means changing the production process so that you’re not using as many toxic chemicals to begin with.”
Nationwide, Maryland ranked 35th for toxic releases in 1993, said Patricia Williams, EPA’s Maryland coordinator of the Toxics Release Inventory data. Air emissions accounted for 79 percent of the Maryland releases that year. Water and land pollution made up about 4 and 17 percent, respectively.
Maryland’s three neighboring states all reported more toxic pollution from businesses: Virginia earned an 11th place ranking in 1993, while Pennsylvania ranked 15th and Virginia 25th.
Louisiana racked up the worst record nationally; Hawaii the best.
The Maryland database showed that manufacturers in Baltimore City and its surrounding counties – Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Harford – released nearly 53 million pounds of toxic chemicals during the five-year period.
That was more than twice the 21 million pounds released in Western Maryland. The region consists of Allegany, Washington, Garrett, Frederick and Carroll counties.
The third-highest region for toxic chemical releases was the Eastern Shore, with about 4 million pounds for the five years. The region consists of Cecil, Kent, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties.
The D.C. suburban area – Prince George’s, Montgomery and Charles counties – had the best record in Maryland for the five years, with 884,305 pounds of toxins released by manufacturers.
St. Mary’s, Calvert and Queen Anne’s counties did not appear in the EPA database. They had no facilities releasing chemicals included on the inventory list, Williams said.
The manufacturer releasing the most toxic chemicals, Westvaco, emitted about 13 million pounds of them over the five- year period. Releases dropped from nearly 6 million pounds to about 2 million pounds.
The next highest producers included Quebecor Printing in Glen Burnie; Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point in Baltimore County; and SCM Chemicals and W.R. Grace & Co., both in Baltimore.
The most-released chemical in Maryland was toluene, a solvent that may cause liver and kidney damage and irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory tract if inhaled in large doses.
Other major chemical releases included hydrochloric acid, which, in high concentrations, can cause severe skin and eye burns; methyl chloroform, which, after prolonged exposure, can cause the thickening and cracking of the skin; and ammonia, which can cause lung irritation in cases of long-term exposure.
Federal and state government regulations may have prompted some of the improvements.
Under the Community Right to Know Act, passed by Congress in 1986, manufacturers employing at least 10 people and processing at least 25,000 pounds of any of more than 300 listed chemicals are required to make annual reports of their emissions.
The federal law was passed in the wake of the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, that killed nearly 4,000 people.
New state regulations for air emissions were introduced in 1986 and ’87, with requirements gradually phased in, said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The addition of 286 chemicals to the EPA list in November 1994 prompted the Chemical Manufacturers Association to sue the agency. The lawsuit claimed the EPA did not use the correct screening procedures to select 153 of the chemicals on the list. The suit is ongoing.
Linda Wunderlich, the EPA’s toxics inventory project manager, said it was the 1987 law that, for the first time, showed companies the actual levels of pollution they produced.
“In some cases, companies didn’t know they were releasing so many chemicals,” she said.
Wunderlich said even though there has been a marked decline in overall releases, the EPA, like MaryPIRG, would like to see more pollution prevention.
“They’re reducing the amount they’re releasing, but not the amount they’re generating,” she said of the manufacturers.
The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 was designed to address this problem. As a result of the act, the EPA amended its toxic inventory form to include manufacturers’ pollution prevention activities, such as waste recycling.
But Kean of the Chemical Manufacturers said looking at waste produced during the manufacturing process is misleading because it does not take into account the chemical industry’s efforts to recycle waste. “Emissions, to us, are the real indicator because that’s what’s being released directly into the environment,” he said.
MaryPIRG’s Pontious disagreed. “It’s still transported on our roadways and handled on the facilities and that presents a certain amount of risk to workers and to citizens,” he said. -30-