Eleven South Baltimore chemical companies, bidding to improve their relations with surrounding communities, say they have voluntarily reduced their releases of toxic chemicals into the environment by 74 percent since 1987.
The companies also project that releases of cancer-causing chemicals into the air will decline by 79 percent by 1992. The firms are located largely in the Fairfield, Curtis Bay, Hawkins Point and Wagner's Point neighborhoods,
"This is how far we've come and, essentially, we're not done yet," said David L. Mahler, director of environmental control for Vista Chemical Co. in Fairfield.
The emissions reductions were announced yesterday by the Chemical Industry Council of Maryland at a news conference at W.R. Grace Co.'s Davison chemical plant in Hawkins Point.
But Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition based in Glen Burnie, says she still gets irritating whiffs of sulfuric acid fumes when she drives by SCM Chemicals in Curtis Bay.
"Excuse me while I cough," she said last night, dismissing the industry's announcement as "a big PR thing."
Rosso said the announcement overlooks how some companies have been pressured by government and environmentalists to clean up their toxic pollution.
South Baltimore has one of the highest levels of toxic air emissions in the state because of the heavy concentration of chemical plants there. SCM and Vista both have had accidental leaks of toxic chemicals in recent months, although no injuries were reported.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has negotiated agreements with six South Baltimore companies, including Grace, SCM and Vista, to reduce their toxic air emissions over the next couple years. The companies did not meet last July's deadline for complying with the state's toxic air pollution limits.
Louis H. Kistner, president of the industry council and spokesman for SCM, acknowledged that companies had resisted community pressure to reduce emission in the past, but he said times and attitudes have changed.
"There needs to be a concerted ongoing effort [to reduce toxic emissions]," Kistner said. "There was a reluctance 10 years ago, but we've become more sensitive over the last decade."
Kistner said SCM Chemicals, for example, spent more than $10 million last year on environmental control programs. Vista Chemical Co. spent $20 million during the last six years for a pollution abatement program, Mahler said.
The largest chemical reduction projection is a 79 percent decline by the end of the year in the release of toxic chemicals to water, according to CIC officials. Toxic chemicals to land are expected to be reduced by 61 percent and air toxic releases are projected to be reduced by 68 percent.
The 11 companies involved in the projections are: Atochem North America, Chemetals, Courtney Industries, Delta Chemicals, FMC Corp., W.R. Grace, Peridot, Reichhold Chemicals, Rhone Polenc, SCM Chemicals and Vista.
"Before, industries took a fence-line approach. Members of the community didn't know what was happening inside the industries," Kistner said. "Industries then took a combative approach to community interest. But now we are more involved in dialogue with the community."
To further explain its toxic-reduction efforts, the industry council has invited community members to an open house tonight at St. Athanasius Church at Church and Prudence streets in Curtis Bay.
Rosso credited companies like FMC, which manufactures pesticides, for trying to reduce emissions voluntarily, but she scoffed at the environmental claims of other companies that have been fined for pollution, such as SCM and Bethlehem Steel Corp.