BALTIMORE – A group of environmental activists gathered near a pier in Curtis Bay on Thursday to complain about a key change in the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s reporting of toxic chemicals that they say puts “a blinder on the public’s right to know.”
In late 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency raised the threshold of the quantity of some toxins it will include in its Toxic Release Inventory report – released annually since 1988 – from each polluting industrial plant. The 2005 TRI released Thursday marks the last report released without the higher threshold.
“The EPA rollbacks put a blinder on the public’s right to know,” said Johanna Neumann of Maryland PIRG.
But the EPA disagrees. The report still documents each chemical released by industrial plants and only stops reporting the quantity of toxins under 2000 pounds.
“It is designed to put less of a burden on the industrial plants when they report,” said William Reilly, TRI coordinator for the Maryland region. “These are the run-of-the-mill toxins; we still have to report every amount of the really bad ones.”
Reilly noted that Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins, like mercury, have to be reported no matter what the quantity.
“If you’re an environmentalist and you have something that is there you don’t want it taken away. But at the same time there is still a lot of data that is going to be out there,” said Reilly.
Neumann agreed that the standards will not change the way the EPA regulates the plants but rather just the amount of knowledge the public gets.
Dr. Michael Trush of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health feels the report’s higher thresholds are especially important to Maryland. He says full reports are integral to scientists who study the effects of toxins on specific communities.
“It is vital for communities to know what is out there. This ZIP code 21226 is ground zero,” said Trush pointing the ground where he stood near the Brandon Shores/Wagner Complex Constellation Energy power plant. “When it gets in the air it doesn’t stay here, it goes all over the place.”
Chemical toxins released by industrial plants are linked to health problems such as cancer, reproductive difficulties, asthma and heart disease. The EPA closely regulates plants to make sure they are in compliance with federal standards.
In 2004, The Curtis Bay ZIP code ranked 13th in the nation for air releases of toxic chemicals that cause respiratory problems.
Former state Delegate Mary Rosso lives in Glen Burnie near the Curtis Bay area. She has been an environmental activist ever since she lived near the Browning Ferris hazardous waste landfill in the 1970s. She said landfill chemicals seeped into the groundwater and caused “green snow.” She stressed the importance of the Toxic Right-To-Know Protection Act that Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-Maryland, is co-sponsoring to change the TRI reports back to the way they were before 2006. Wynn is chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous materials.