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South Baltimore residents complain of toxic chemicals inhaled from trash incinerator

Baltimore residents say they are inhaling toxic chemicals from incinerator
Baltimore residents say they are inhaling toxic chemicals from incinerator 03:15

BALTIMORE -- A South Baltimore non-profit filed a civil rights complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the city needs to do more to divert trash from going to the site.

Neighbors say they've been inhaling toxic chemicals from the plant and want the trash burning to stop, adding there are significant health and quality of life impacts. 

They added that they are fed up with trash being burned at the plant and are calling on Mayor Brandon Scott and the Department of Public Works to send trash elsewhere.

The complaint targets the city's Ten Year Solid Waste Management Plan, saying it doesn't do enough to divert trash from the incinerator. The group claims toxic chemicals produced by the plant are disproportionally impacting Black and Hispanic communities in South Baltimore.

The civil rights complaint was filed under Title VI, which states people cannot be discriminated against in any program or activity funded by the federal government.

"When you know better, you should do better," said Angela Smothers, President of the Mt. Winans Community Association.

The South Baltimore Community Land Trust filed a civil rights complaint against the city with the EPA, saying the Department of Public Works needs to divert more trash from the BRESCO incinerator on Russell Street.

"Our allegations are not that diversion is absent from the complaint but that it is not supported, and it is not fulfilled in a manner that would allow it to actually happen to be actually implemented," said Taylor Lilley, an attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and representing the South Baltimore Community Land Trust. "The terms within it that allow for the continued rate of operation from BRESCO. We've highlighted that the rate of operation is untenable because of the amount of pollution that's contributing to communities and because it exists not in a vacuum but with and among other harmful polluters in the area."

The complaint says there are 279 sites within the immediate area in South Baltimore that report to the EPA with 70 industrial sources of air pollution regulated by the state in the impacted area.

According to the city's 10 Year Solid Waste Management Plan, the city renewed its contract with WIN Waste Innovations – the operator of the incinerator. 

The contract now runs through 2031. 

In 2020 during his first campaign, Mayor Brandon Scott pledged to close the facility. The city's 10-year plan makes no promises to do so anytime soon but does say it will divert some trash from the BRESCO facility.

The plan also says one of its goals is to phase out waste incineration in the next decade, which is part of the Mayor's Action Plan.

Neighbors claim there was another plan in front of the city that diverted 50 percent of the waste to other areas. That plan was not adopted.

"It's one of the plans the city itself is investigated, highlighted and ultimately failed to support in the in the solid waste management plan and since its implementation," Lilley said.

A few neighbors and other advocates gathered Wednesday morning to discuss the complaint which was filed on Tuesday.

"There's no need for this," said Michael Middleton, executive director of the SB7 Coalition. "We are sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Community members hope the EPA will take up the complaint and investigate the site. They also want the city to take another look at its waste plan.

"Together, we will do whatever it takes to break over reliance on trash incineration and replace it with just transition to zero waste that we deserve," said Carlos Sanchez, of Lakeland.

Next, the civil rights complaint will be reviewed by the EPA. The agency will decide if it will investigate BRESCO and the city's Department of Public Works.

"It is our hope that through EPA investigation and future conversations with the agency and hopefully with city officials as well, we're able to reach a path that allows for reduced development and also brings in community concerns out," Lilley said.

WIN Waste Baltimore issued the following statement to WJZ:

WIN Waste Baltimore safely converts residential and business waste into renewable energy. Following last year's completion of $45 million in upgrades to its air-quality control systems, WIN Waste Baltimore is among the lowest-emitting waste-to-energy facilities in the world."

"Not only does research clearly demonstrate that our operations have a negligible impact on ambient air quality, our facility is reducing greenhouse gases by diverting waste from landfills, which release methane, and reducing use of fossil fuels for energy."

"While we actively invest in waste reduction initiatives like supporting the City's recycling efforts during COVID and partnering with sustainability nonprofit 4MyCity on the region's most ambitious residential composting program, the amount of waste generated by the city continues to grow each year."

"Managing waste locally reduces the number of tractor-trailer trips required to haul waste to distant disposal sites, reducing traffic-related air pollution, which is the leading cause of air pollution affecting people in urban areas. Moving away from waste-to-energy, the City has estimated, would cost taxpayers roughly $100 million to expand local landfill capacity and build transfer stations to transport more waste out-of-state."

WJZ reached out to Baltimore City for comment, and have not heard back.

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