Residents in East Baltimore want gravel-processing plant to close

Neighbors say factory generates excessive dust

April 29, 2002|By Nora Achrati | Nora Achrati,SUN STAFF

Residents of an East Baltimore neighborhood and managers of a gravel-processing plant are involved in a long-running battle over what the residents say is excessive dust, noise and traffic from Baltimore Aggregate Recycling Co.

Some in East Baltimore are calling for the shutdown of the plant, which opened on Edison Highway in 1998. It processes truckloads of broken concrete, bricks and asphalt from torn-down buildings into gravel and cement-base for highway and construction projects.

Residents "can't raise their windows. Their cars are constantly filled with dust. They can't hang their clothes out at certain times of the day," said Michele O. Brown, executive director of Clearinghouse for a Healthy Community, an east-side nonprofit group that wants to close the gravel plant.

But company officials insist that they are operating within environmental codes and say they have been rebuffed in their efforts to discuss the issue with residents.

"We told them we have an open-door policy. People from the area are welcome to come talk to us," said Jim Stewart, company manager. "But we haven't heard from anybody. None of them have contacted us."

The Edison Highway facility sits across the street from an abandoned steel mill. The gravel it crushes sits in story-high dunes waiting for purchase. A neighborhood is behind the dunes, and residents say they have been putting up with dust pollution since the plant opened.

Since January, small numbers of residents have demonstrated outside the facility to call attention to what they say are air quality problems and to generate support for a shutdown.

Seven residents - most of them elderly - demonstrated at the company's Edison Highway entrance Friday. They wore poster board signs that read "Dump This Dump!" and "We Need Clean Air," and talked of asthma and other problems they say are aggravated by the recycling site's dust emissions.

But plant managers and the Maryland Department of the Environment say no evidence exists of pollution violations on the company's part.

"The community is upset about traffic and dust, but [the company is] adhering to our dust suppression laws," said Richard J. McIntire, a Maryland Environment Department spokesman. "They don't even operate any machinery that would fall under the Clean Air Act. They don't release contaminants that would be on our toxic release inventory."

Clearinghouse disagrees, claiming the concrete and asphalt trucked into the company lot contains hazardous elements that are released when ground to dust. The company maintains that its materials are free of lead and other dangerous materials.

In May 2000, the company was cited for operating a concrete crusher without a permit. Stewart said the company had replaced an older machine, and the failure to obtain a permit for the new crusher was an "oversight."

The company received a permit after paying a $10,000 fine.

Brown, however, said the new permit should never have been issued, in part because residents were never consulted. Residents met with MDE officials after the permit was issued, not before, she said.

"They did not include the community, even though they claim they involved the community as far as getting permission is concerned," she said.

Communication between the plant and the community group has been poor. Company officials went out to talk to Clearinghouse members at the group's first demonstration in January. But Stewart said the company wasn't notified about Friday's protest.

Brown said that's because residents don't feel meetings with the company are productive. They plan to continue demonstrating.

"We're tired of living like this," Brown said. "As an African-American community, we need to start putting a face on environmental issues."

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