Living among the smokestacks

Anne Arundel: County, state must ensure that industry doesn't make North Country unsafe for residents.

September 23, 1999

THE BATTLE goes on for residents of northern Anne Arundel County. During the past 30 years, they have fought waste incinerators, fly ash, trash transfer stations and an oil refinery. Now they are waging a campaign against a proposed asphalt products plant.

You have to have sympathy for North County residents, just like the Wagner's Point residents across the city-county border who were beseiged by industrial polluters until the city bought out their homes.

The area has a heavy concentration of businesses that are important for job growth but that nobody wants in their backyards. State and county officials should continue working to mitigate pollution there.

History has determined much of the fate for the area's land-use. Industry grew in South Baltimore after World War I, with some of the growth spilling into northern Anne Arundel. When zoning laws were enacted in the 1960s, it made sense to designate the area, accessible by water and rail, as zones for heavy industry, just as it was proper to zone South County for agriculture.

The latest fight for North County residents is over a proposal by Montreal-based Bitumar Inc., which wants to make asphalt products near Curtis Bay.

Anne Arundel County prohibits the production of asphalt, which is made in the petroleum refining process, but allows businesses to use asphalt to make other products. Bitumar plans to use existing asphalt and used tire granules to make a product for roads and roofing called Ecoflex asphalt cement.

The county had little choice but to approve the project; it is located in the proper zone. But the Maryland Department of the Environment should consider the aggregate effect of air and water quality before issuing a permit. The state's cancer rates, among the nation's worst, remain a warning signal that shouldn't be ignored.

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