Delegate's resolution ties cancer deaths, pollution

Measure urges state to bar new chemical plants from Curtis Bay area

February 28, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

State Del. Mary M. Rosso says that areas of northern Anne Arundel County and Curtis Bay in southern Baltimore have had more than their share of cancer deaths and that some might be attributed to toxic waste from Curtis Bay's chemical plants, steel firms, power stations and landfills.

The legislator led a tour yesterday to promote a resolution she has introduced in the General Assembly that links pollution in the areas to their cancer rates.

It also urges the state Department of the Environment to prohibit new chemical plants from moving into Curtis Bay. Resolutions passed by the legislature are nonbinding and express the opinion of the General Assembly.

"It's time to set some parameters and say enough is enough," Rosso said after an hourlong drive through the industrial corridor.

Rosso, who has lined up a number of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County delegates as co-sponsors, says a 1996 report shows Anne Arundel has the highest cancer mortality rate of any Maryland county west of the Chesapeake Bay.

While no studies definitively link cancer rates to pollution from chemical plants, Rosso is convinced they are related.

"When you have so many toxics in one area, it has to be a factor," said Rosso, who represents northern Anne Arundel.

Cancer rates in Curtis Bay have been a concern for years.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson asked Johns Hopkins Medical School epidemiologists to examine cancer risks in 1996 in Wagner's Point, a community in the heart of Curtis Bay, after his office discovered "significantly elevated levels" of lung cancer, leukemia and lymphoma.

"We're still waiting to hear about this Hopkins report," said Doris McGuigan, a longtime Brooklyn activist who was on the tour yesterday.

Rosso's tour covered a wide range of industrial sites clustered within the area, including three landfills, a chromium storage facility, a medical waste incinerator, a steel plant and a paint manufacturing facility.

The tour also included three residential communities -- Hawkins Point, Fairfield and Wagner's Point -- all closed or in the process of closing because of toxic pollution.

The resolution urges the state Department of Environment to stop issuing environmental permits to industry moving to the 21226 ZIP code -- a three-mile stretch from Wagner's Point to Riviera Beach in northern Anne Arundel County.

The measure will be the subject of a hearing tomorrow before the House Environmental Matters Committee in Annapolis.

Although it requires the state to take no specific action, the resolution faces stiff opposition from the chemical industry.

Industry representatives say the measure would discourage expansion of existing plants and stifle job growth.

"It's anti-economic development, it's anti-Smart Growth and it's flawed public policy," said Enrique Bertran, chairman of the Chemical Industry Council of Maryland.

Bertran said no evidence exists that emissions produced by companies in Curtis Bay -- or anywhere else -- have contributed to cancer rates.

He said that several studies have attributed most cancers to hereditary factors, such as a patient's family history, or lifestyle choices, such as cigarette smoking.

Rosso acknowledged that the resolution has generated controversy.

She said she has been lobbied by labor unions concerned about jobs and chemical firms concerned about their future.

But she said much of the concern is because the resolution is being misrepresented by the chemical industry as a measure that would shut down existing plants.

She emphasized that the resolution would not keep industries from expanding, but is only intended to keep out new chemical plants.

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