By Jackie Apel
In light of the Maryland Department of Energy’s new rule requiring waste incinerators in the state to reduce their harmful air pollution, this is an excellent time to consider ways for Baltimore and other cities to manage their waste disposal processes. The Baltimore City Council has issued a resolution to improve upon its Solid Waste Management Master Plan, asking consultants to bid on a contract to develop a new plan. These new resolutions and limits on emissions are important first steps towards reducing air pollution, but environmentalists have expressed concerns that these steps do not go far enough to adequately address our clean air problems.
Residents who live near incineration facilities are all too familiar with the dirty air that they breathe each day. Recently, I heard testimony from a resident of Baltimore who recounted how many of her neighbors had been exposed to dangerous chemicals as well as air from the BRESCO incinerator, and had developed lung cancer as a result. While it is encouraging that the incinerators are taking steps to lower their output of nitrogen oxides, it is also a known fact that incinerators tend to be placed near, and disproportionately impact, lower income communities of color. A recent scientific study by The American Chemical Society reported that nitrogen oxides directly contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD; lung cancers; heart disease; birth defects, and developmental problems in children, with impacts to the brain and nervous systems. Nitrogen dioxide is a hidden health hazard, and particulates can become airborne and travel long distances, with microscopic particles penetrating deeply into the lungs. During the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearing, we also heard testimony from a teenager who suffers with asthma about the dangers of air pollution, and its consequences for human health, and the importance of not revoking our environmental regulations. Many are rightfully concerned as we watch the Trump Administration move in a fateful direction, away from regulation of harmful toxins, to allowing companies to proliferate pollution of our air and water. Combined, there are many sources of air pollution that affect our health on a daily basis, as well as contribute to climate change.
What can we do to minimize our trash pollution and create a cleaner environment? Maryland can begin by passing the Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, which would phase out incineration as a Tier 1 source in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Improving our technology and limiting emissions will help, but we also need to look at the whole picture of waste management— from product design to disposal—and find ways to move towards a “zero waste” plan like Oakland, California has done, where 1,000 jobs were created. Pollution costs the U.S. billions in healthcare, and is adversely affecting our planet’s weather. We need to embrace new ways of thinking about waste disposal, and do everything we can to limit our toxic air. We can do this sooner rather than later, by following a zero waste and clean energy plan!