Air Quality in Baltimore City
Air quality in Baltimore City is Improving.
- Recent reports from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) document major improvements in Baltimore’s air quality over the past 5-10 years.
- A study of air concentrations in more than 480 major US cities, including Baltimore, showed that Baltimore air levels in 2010 were lower than concentrations in dozens of other US cities and typical of the ranges of concentrations found in many cities across the country.
- MDE attributes improvements in air quality to the Healthy Air Act of 2006, the Clean Car Act of 2007 and the 2015 NOx regulation for coal-fired power plants. New 2016-2017 initiatives to help continue the progress towards clean air include the updated Clean Cars Act of 2017, new GHGs reduction initiatives, clean diesel programs at Port of Baltimore, and the Maryland petition to U.S. EPA that highlights 36 upwind power plant units that significantly affect Maryland’s air quality.
The major source of air pollution in Baltimore City is traffic-related air pollution (TRAP), as is the case in many major cities.
TRAP is estimated to be the largest contributor to nitrogen oxides and particulate concentrations in Baltimore’s air.
In 2018, the MDE reported that “Emissions from mobile sources continue to be the largest source of NOx pollution in Maryland, though significant reductions are being achieved through cleaner cars and fuels.”
Asthma and Air Pollution in Baltimore City determined that “There is significant overlap between areas with relatively high roadway traffic pollution and high asthma hospitalization rates in the center of the city and in parts of East and West Baltimore.”
– The Environmental Integrity Project’s 2017 report
Annual average concentration from Wheelabrator Baltimore are negligible compared to concentrations from other sources
In terms of health effects, what is important is air quality which is evaluated by looking at ambient air concentrations. Emission levels are not equal to ambient air concentrations. To analyze how the emissions affect on air quality, one must take into account many factors that affect the dispersion of emissions in the air. When considering the impacts of facility emissions on air quality, it is important to understand that the same amount of emissions from different sources (for example, from a vehicle at ground level vs. from a stack) have very different impacts on air quality.
Annual average NOx air concentrations related to Wheelabrator Baltimore have a negligible impact on air quality. The annual background concentrations of NOx from all sources combined are 50 or more times higher than those related to Wheelabrator Baltimore alone. The air concentrations due to facility emissions are all well below the ambient air quality standards set by U.S. EPA and MDE to protect public health. In fact, nearly all annual average air concentrations are below detection levels of the U.S. EPA and MDE air quality monitors.1
Asthma and Air Quality in Baltimore City
Wheelabrator Baltimore takes seriously its commitment to Baltimore City and its reputation globally as an environmentally responsible solution to today’s waste management challenges. As such, to address assertions by the Baltimore City Council that emissions from Wheelabrator Baltimore’s WTE facility pose a risk to public health and must be drastically reduced, the company engaged a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and experts to carry out a thorough assessment of relevant public health information.
Their findings confirm what multiple scientific studies have already concluded:
Asthma rates in Baltimore City are not related to Wheelabrator Baltimore
The environmental epidemiology study statistically analyzed the annual asthma health data and modeled annual average air concentrations, taking into account socio-demographic parameters across Baltimore City’s 21 zip codes over three years of available data. The study showed there were no statistically significant associations between annual age-adjusted asthma rates in relation to annual average PM2.5, NO2 or SO2 air concentrations from the facility (PM2.5, NO2 and SO2 are most likely to be related to asthma).
A strong relationship exists between Baltimore City asthma rates and social determinants of health The study identified consistent statistically significant associations between asthma rates and median family income and other socio-demographic parameters such as race, homeownership rate and housing vacancy rate. This is in agreement with scientific research showing the importance of social determinants of health on asthma in U.S. cities like Baltimore.
A strong relationship exists between Baltimore City asthma rates and social determinants of health
The study identified consistent statistically significant associations between asthma rates and median family income and other socio-demographic parameters such as race, homeownership rate and housing vacancy rate. This is in agreement with scientific research showing the importance of social determinants of health on asthma in U.S. cities like Baltimore.
TRC Environmental Corporation, 2019; Alotaibi, R. et. Al. database. 2019. https://carteehdata.org/library/webapp/trap-asthma-usa;
Guidance Document: Maryland’s Toxic Air Pollutant (TAP) Regulations. Maryland Department of the Environment, 2016.
2Annual average Nox concentrations across Baltimore City zip codes based on emissions from the Wheelabrator facility (TRC 2019. Dispersion Modeling Analysis – Baltimore RESCO Facility) and background annual average Nox air concentrations from modeling (2019; Alotobai R. et. Database.
2019 https:carteehdata.org/library/webapp/trap-asthma-usa and Traffic related air pollution and the burden of childhood asthma in the contiguous United States in 2000 and 2010. Env. Int. 127:858) and USEPA and MDE air quality monitors in Baltimore City.
Read the full study: EVALUATION OF ASTHMA EMERGENCY ROOM AND HOSPITAL DISCHARGE RATES IN RELATION TO AMBIENT AIR CONCENTRATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH THE WHEELABRATOR WASTE-TO-ENERGY FACILITY
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A project of Wheelabrator Baltimore