Wagner's Point area ranked 9th in U.S. for chemical accident risk 'A very dangerous place,' environmental group says

July 23, 1998|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

An environmental group has ranked the area around Wagner's Point, including the northeast tip of Anne Arundel County, as the ninth most dangerous neighborhood for chemical accidents in the United States.

This is the second time in three years that the U.S. Public Interest Research Group has analyzed the risk of chemical accidents that could affect many people, and the second time that the 21226 ZIP code has ranked among the 10 most dangerous spots in the nation. In 1995, the area, which includes Baltimore's Fairfield, Curtis Bay and part of Brooklyn and Anne Arundel County's Stoney Beach, was ranked seventh nationwide.

"The bottom line is it's still a very dangerous place to be," said Daniel Pontious, executive director of Maryland PIRG, the group's state affiliate. "This report shows the fears of residents in this neighborhood and in other neighborhoods across Maryland are based on real risks."

Residents of tiny Wagner's Point, whose rowhouses are surrounded by chemical manufacturing plants and oil companies' tank farms, have asked Baltimore to pay for a mass relocation into a safer neighborhood. Negotiations for a city TTC buyout have been contentious, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has said the city may use its powers of eminent domain to condemn the residences.

The concentration of chemical plants in Wagner's Point, the risks posed by the types of chemicals stored there and the fact that accidents could affect people living as much as five miles away are the reasons the ZIP code scored so high in the nationwide analysis, Pontious and other activists said.

"I do not agree with that," said Gene Reynolds, a senior engineer at FMC Corp., which manufactures herbicides at its Wagner's Point plant. The company may be subject to a fine from the Maryland Department of the Environment in the wake of a May accident that released chemicals into the air in the neighborhood. But Reynolds said accidents serious enough to warrant evacuation are "almost nonexistent."

Wagner's Point has no evacuation plan because its single-access road, which runs past the FMC plant, has been impassable during past accidents. Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a Baltimore Fire Department spokesman, said the city is negotiating with local oil companies to provide residents an escape route across company land in an emergency.

The environmentalists said the risk stretches beyond Wagner's Point. Statewide, Pontious said, 329,000 people live within range of a plant that stores high-risk chemicals.

"Wagner's Point is essentially ground zero in terms of toxic chemical use and the potential for accidents," said Terry Harris of the Sierra Club, "but citywide there are problems."

Areas at risk

Here are the 10 communities (by ZIP code) ranked by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group at greatest risk for a "worst- case" chemical accident:

1. Geismar, La. 70734

2. Deer Park, Texas 77536

3. La Porte, Texas 77571

4. Pasadena, Texas 77507

5. Freeport, Texas 77590

6. Texas City, Texas 77590

7. Westlake, La. 70669

8. El Dorado, Ark. 71730

9. Baltimore 21226

10. Axis, Ala. 36505

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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