Does Harbor Point Environmental Regulation Rest On Residents?

Oct 17, 2013

Credit Tom Chalkley

"Toxic Metals in Wells and Air" might be the least welcome headline ever if you were developing a site where the toxic materials were found. Readings in and around the Harbor Point development site--a chromium processing plant for 140 years until the 1980s--produced numbers of concern to the city. Some measurements were three times higher than federal standards.

With construction once scheduled to begin October 15, the publication of chromium pollution in the air and water give a whole new significance to the word "groundbreaking." The construction work will require disturbing the ground around a cap to that contains the harmful chemical.

"Alarming," said Edward Bouwer, a Johns Hopkins University scientist who wonders if measures taken to contain the pollution are working. Bouwer's concerns appeared in a report in the Baltimore Sun.

Other experts minimize the likelihood of a real threat to humans living in the area. But Councilman James Kraft, quite rightly, insists on more tests to rule out a human health hazard. The Exelon Corporation plans a new, 22-story office building on the site. The development includes plans for some housing, a promenade, and small parks.

People are already working or studying on the property. A school is there. And a Morgan Stanley office building stands adjacent to the property--all of which must surely heighten concerns.

It also raises questions: How did we get so far down the road without knowing whether the safety issues had been resolved? There was the impression that a cap over the polluted soil gave the site a clean bill of health. But apparently there had been no final go-ahead.

All the parties were to have met on the issue last week, but the government shutdown meant federal officials could not attend. Councilman Kraft hopes to reschedule. Beatty Development Group, developers of the Harbor Point project, agreed to delay the groundbreaking.

Neighborhood groups pushing for more assurances turn out to be the regulators of last resort.

Your comments are welcome at fsmith@wypr.org.fsmith@wypr.org.