South Baltimore's chemical companies attempted to shed their image as polluters yesterday by releasing a report saying they are responsible for less than 1 percent of their area's cancer risk from air pollution.
Curtis Bay and Brooklyn residents have long complained that they are the exposed to high levels of cancer-causing chemicals because of their proximity to South Baltimore's industrial area, which includes 11 chemical plants.
But the companies said the largest exposure to airborne carcinogens comes not from chemical plants but from car exhaust and gasoline vapors, and a smaller portion comes from dry cleaners and other small businesses. "The air in Baltimore City is actually higher in cancer-causing chemicals than in South Baltimore," said Louis Kistner, president of the Chemical Industry Council, representing 40 Maryland companies.
Officials said the 11 chemical companies, which include FMC Corp., Vista Chemical Co. and SCM Corp., have reduced their emissions of carcinogens, or chemicals suspected of causing cancer, by 95 percent in the past six years.
Yesterday's news conference came at a time when the City Council is considering legislation requiring any new business that would emit air pollutants to get council approval before opening.
That bill was put in at the request of Brooklyn and Curtis Bay residents, said Councilman Edward L. Reisinger III, D-6th. "The residents are not anti-business, but they are saying enough is enough."
The chemical companies believe the bill would hurt economic development in the area for no environmental gain, said Carolyn T. Burridge, a spokeswoman for the Chemical Industry Council.
Officials in the Maryland Department of the Envisaid the data the industry council used for the analysis were accurate, and they did not dispute its conclusion. "There is nothing outrageously wrong with it," said George Ferreri, chief of the state's Air Management Administration.
In fact, the EPA has estimated that pollution from cars is the source of 50 percent of the average person's cancer risk attributed to all air pollutants.
However, Mr. Ferreri and his staff pointed out that there are several other large companies in the area, including Bethlehem Steel and Eastern Stainless Steel Corp., which emit cancer-causing chemicals and were not included in the chemical industry's analysis.
In addition, five of the 11 chemical companies, are now under legally binding agreements with the state to further reduce their emissions to meet the state's regulations of toxic air pollutants.
And the analysis includes no chemicals that may be considered highly toxic, even though they are not carcinogens.
To do the analysis, the industry council took the state's data on the amount of chemical pollution at four locations, including two in South Baltimore. Then the industry compared it with estimates of pollution levels along Curtis Avenue, where the closest residences to the chemical plants are located.
"What I hope it does is give people a more balanced perspective. We understand [the residents'] concerns, and that is why we have looked closely," said David Mahler, director of Environmental Control at Vista.
South Baltimore residents reacted to the chemical companies' announcement yesterday with caution. "I think it sounds good. Let's hope it is true," said Dolores Barnes, president of the Concerned Citizens for Better Brooklyn. "We know we have the regulations in place now to help the air quality."