Trade group to post billboards in areas near industrial sites Council aims to improve relationship with residents

August 12, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A trade association of Maryland chemical manufacturers is launching its first billboard campaign this week with signs designed to "improve community outreach" to South Baltimore neighborhoods near industrial plants.

The Chemical Industry Council of Maryland will post signs in seven locations along roads in Curtis Bay, Brooklyn and Fairfield that lead to Wagner's Point. Residents of that tiny south city section, surrounded by chemical companies and oil tank farms, have argued that chemical pollution and spills have made the neighborhood unacceptably dangerous.

People living in the area say the chemical industry should join city, state and federal governments in providing money for a buyout of their homes. So far, the chemical companies have declined.

Roy Vaillant, the council's managing director, insisted that the timing of the billboard effort had nothing to do with the furor in Wagner's Point. The campaign, instead, is a pilot program paid for by the Virginia-based Chemical Manufacturers Association, the industry's national lobbying arm.

"The Chemical Manufacturers Association wants to do a better job of informing the public about all the things the industry does across the country to help communities," said Vaillant. "In Baltimore, we're the guinea pig."

The billboards will carry a different message in each of the next three months. August's message reads "SBIMAP Working together for a safer community," a reference to the South Baltimore Industrial Mutual Aid Plan, a 16-year-old regional emergency response group. Underneath the words are pictures of SBIMAP members including chemical company executives, a firefighter and representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maryland Department of Environment.

September's billboard will have a phone number that citizens can call if they have a question about chemicals or a chemical company. But in the neighborhoods where the boards will appear, community leaders dismissed the signs as propaganda.

"If the chemical companies want to be community-minded, they should come to the table and help with the buyout," said Rose Hindla, president of the community association in Wagner's Point.

Doris McGuigan, a resident and environmental activist in South Baltimore, compared the chemical council campaign to the use of billboards by tobacco companies to sell cigarettes.

"I don't believe the timing is a coincidence," she said. "I believe they are trying to reach our children and community and tell them chemicals are OK. And I don't like it."

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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