A classic, harmless landmark as you enter the city from the south? Far from it!
Wheelabrator’s smokestack is recognizable, but many don’t know that it is part of the city’s largest air polluter. In operation since 1985, Wheelabrator Baltimore is the 10th-largest trash incinerator in the country, and accounts for 37% of all air emissions from Baltimore City industry – three times worse than the second-largest polluter. In fact, Wheelabrator ranks
#1 in Mercury – causes damage to nervous, digestive, and immmune systems, lowers IQ in children
#1 in Hyrdochloric Acid – irritates eyes, skin, and nose, damages lungs
#1 in Sulfur Dioxide – triggers asthma attacks, increases lifetime risk of chronic respiratory and heart diseases and stroke
#1 in Lead – causes damage to nervous system and kidneys, lowers IQ in children, increases likelihood of antisocial behavior
#1 in Nitrogen Oxides – triggers asthma attacks, increases lifetime risk of chronic respiratory disease and stroke
#1 in Formaldehyde – irritates eyes, skin, and nose, increases lifetime risk of cancer
#1 in Carbon Monoxide – causes headaches, dizziness, and vomiting; increases lifetime risk of heart disease
And from a climate change perspective, Wheelabrator is #1 in Carbon Dioxide emissions!
But how can this be? Most days, you never see anything coming out of the smokestack.
This is because Maryland law states that incinerators cannot release visible emissions. People usually don’t complain about pollution if they can’t see it, so Wheelabrator’s impact, ironically, is out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
But what do those rankings really mean?
One of the best ways of understanding how impactful Wheelabrator’s emissions are is to compare them to mobile emissions. For example Wheelabrator’s NOx emissions are so large, closing the facility would be the equivalent of taking half the cars or half the trucks off of Baltimore’s roads!