All people deserve to live, work, and play in healthy environments. But low-income neighborhoods and communities of color often bear disproportionate health burdens from environmental pollution.
The Environmental Integrity Project seeks to serve environmental justice communities by engaging directly with residents, making air and water pollution data more accessible, and reducing pollution through environmental permit reviews and advocacy work.
Air & Water Pollution Data
Our team extracts and analyzes data from dense files to make it available (and understandable) to the public. We also use our own monitoring equipment to collect air quality data in certain neighborhoods located near heavy industry and port facilities in Baltimore and Houston. We use the information that we gather to assist local partners and to promote policy, permitting, and enforcement decisions that measurably reduce the pollution produced in and around overburdened communities.
We examine permits for current and proposed projects that would impact environmental justice communities, and identify areas where these permits are not as strong as they could be or fall short of compliance with environmental laws. Our work has resulted in improved environmental monitoring, reductions in pollution, and stronger protection of public health. For example, our scrutiny of a proposed permit for a crude oil export terminal in Baltimore resulted in Houston-based Targa Terminals withdrawing the project in June 2016 after Maryland regulators demanded more information.
The most effective advocates for protecting the health of communities are its residents. We engage with local grassroots groups, students, and community leaders to provide information about how to influence and improve the decisions of government agencies. We also inform residents about their rights under environmental law, and provide assistance with environmental issues of local concern.
Since 2011, EIP has had a program dedicated to helping residents and partner groups in Baltimore to track and reduce pollution in the city’s most industrialized neighborhoods and to ensure that citizen voices are heard in environmental decision-making. Our program focuses on communities in South Baltimore and Dundalk, which are located close to large industrial areas and exposed to pollution from sources including industrial plants, oil terminals, and diesel trucks and trains.
Our goal is to assist these communities with obtaining critical information about pollution affecting their neighborhoods and to reduce risk as much as possible to human health and quality of life. To date, we have worked on pollution from trash incinerators, raw sewage in city streams, coal export terminals, coal-fired power plants, oil terminals seeking to transport potentially explosive Bakken crude oil by rail, and a port terminal built on chromium fill and permitted to discharge hexavalent chromium into nearby waters.
Neighborhood Air Quality and Health Data
Many industrialized communities, including those in Baltimore City, do not have information about the levels of air pollution or related health statistics in their neighborhoods. In Maryland, communities only gained access to information about asthma rates for geographic areas smaller than counties in September 2016. EIP works in Baltimore – and other cities like Houston, Texas – to make neighborhood-level air quality and health information accessible to the public.
EIP Curtis Bay Particulate Air Quality Monitoring Project
Between the spring of 2013 and the summer of 2015, EIP monitored for fine soot-like particles (PM2.5) in the Curtis Bay neighborhood in South Baltimore because the closest state-run monitor is over four miles from this community. PM2.5 is a pollutant associated with burning coal and other materials and it can cause premature death due to heart and respiratory disease. Watch our researchers, Troy and Kira, explain the project.
June 2016: PM2.5 Citizen Sampling Guide
Trash Incinerator Pollution
In 2010, a New York-based company called Energy Answers received a permit to build the largest trash-burning incinerator in the country next to the South Baltimore neighborhood of Curtis Bay. Trash incinerators emit more pollution per energy generated than coal plants for most pollutants, and incinerator emissions are especially high for toxics like lead, mercury, and dioxin. Baltimore is already home to one trash incinerator, operated by Wheelabrator Baltimore, L.P.
Reports, News, and Documents
August 2015: EIP and eighteen environmental, health, faith, and social justice groups call on the Maryland Department of the Environment to find that Energy Answers’ permit has expired due to a prolonged lapse in construction activities at the site.
March 2016: Maryland Department of the Environment finds that Energy Answers’ Clean Air Act permits have expired due to the extensive lapse in construction at the incinerator site, agreeing with EIP’s legal arguments.
Crude Oil by Rail and Coal Exports
Shipments of fossil fuels and other products through port neighborhoods can pose risks to communities near transportation corridors. The shipment of crude oil by train increased in the U.S. starting in 2012, as the practice of fracking boosted oil production in North America. “Bakken crude” – which comes from the Bakken shale in North Dakota – is especially volatile and has caused several large explosions after trains carrying it have derailed.
One such explosion killed 47 people in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Canada, and a February 2015 derailment in West Virginia burned a nearby home to the ground and caused an evacuation of the area. Baltimore City is already home to one terminal that ships crude oil by rail. A proposal for a second terminal was withdrawn after EIP challenged the permit. In addition, Baltimore is the second largest coal-exporting port on the East Coast, and coal dust can adversely affect residents living near terminals and rail lines that ship coal.
For decades, Baltimore City’s leaky, overloaded sewer system has routinely released high volumes of raw human waste into neighborhood streams, Baltimore Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay. Raw sewage contains bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that can cause illnesses such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis. The risks are increased when untreated sewage backs up into basements in homes and other buildings. If left untreated, raw sewage microorganisms can persist in building materials for months and can cause toxic fungi and molds, which grow in moist environments, to develop. Hundreds of Baltimore City residents are affected each year by sewage backups. Responding to these backups is particularly difficult for low-income residents, who often have difficulty paying for cleanup, repairs to their basements, and replacement of personal property.
In 2002, the EPA, the state of Maryland, and Baltimore officials signed a consent decree requiring the city to fix the sewer lines and end all overflows and spills by January 1, 2016. But despite more than tripling water and sewer bills to pay for upgrades, in 2016, the city had only finished about a third of the required work and asked the courts for an extension until 2010.
EIP is working to push the city to provide clean-up services and financial assistance to homeowners whose properties have been damaged by sewage backups. And we are also collaborating with partners at Blue Water Baltimore to watchdog the continued work on system improvements and reporting of sewage overflows, to make sure that the city reports spills to the public as required by law.
December 2015: Stopping the Flood Beneath Baltimore’s Streets
August 2016: EIP and Blue Water Baltimore Submit Comments and Petition to EPA and MDE on Proposed Revisions to Baltimore Sewage Consent Decree:
It’s difficult to imagine there are communities in the United States where it is unsafe to drink the tap water from municipal water systems. Yet in the wake of the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, the Environmental Integrity Project conducted investigations in Texas and California that found tens of thousands of residents – often lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color have been exposed for years to drinking water from public systems tainted by illegal levels of arsenic, a carcinogen. Worse yet, state and local officials often fail to warn the residents not to drink the contaminated water.
Our report on Texas drinking water, “Don’t Drink the Water,” released in March 2016, inspired more than 130 news articles and resulted in real government action to solve the problem. After U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) read an article about EIP’s report in the San Antonio Express News, he pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Webb County to come up with $2 million to build a water filtration plant to solve the water contamination problem for the tiny town of Bruni, Texas — Bruni had more than eight times the legal limit of arsenic, the worst in the state.
After EIP released a report with similar findings in California, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee invited EIP Executive Director Eric Schaeffer to brief committee staff on ways to improve the safety of public drinking water systems across the U.S. And then U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced a bill on September 23, 2016 called the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 2016 that that will improve public reporting requirements and increase federal investments in clean drinking water nationwide.
Reports and News