A wish for Wagner's Point

Activist's goal: Cancer victim John Regiec hoped families would be evacuated from chemical threat.

February 03, 1999

I SHOULD be the last person to die at Wagner's Point," wished John Peter Regiec shortly before his death from leukemia at 79 last week, holding to the hope that his polluted South Baltimore neighborhood would soon disappear in a government buyout.

A community activist and local historian, Mr. Regiec symbolized both the pride of the close-knit, six-block neighborhood and the fear of residents that the surrounding oil and chemical plants are making them deathly sick.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last year promised a buyout of the 90 homes near Curtis Bay, but city appraisals of the homes have not been released. Plans call for condemning the properties under eminent domain, paying residents a premium for the unmarketable houses.

Some Wagner's Point residents don't want to leave, despite the disturbing levels of toxic chemicals that have been found in their air. They like the familiarity and safety of their neighborhood.

But with nearly two dozen neighborhood cancer deaths recorded over the past decade, one of the highest concentrations in the United States, more Wagner's Point residents fear that they are at high risk from the industrial chemicals whose smell often permeates their homes. Mobilized by neighbors such as Mr. Regiec, the majority is fighting for government purchase of their houses.

There's no hard evidence that industries around the residential core have caused cancer and other ailments. Tests have found toxic air levels well above safe limits, but the sources are hard to pinpoint.

If Mr. Regiec's wish is to come true, faster progress is needed to relocate Wagner's Point neighbors. Their initial demands were high, putting off even sympathetic officials.

More reasoned offers can and should be made to advance the mass move from this industrial ghetto.

Pub Date: 2/03/99

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