By Monica Grover
A recent panel discussion at the 2022 Organic Week focused on the impact of agricultural pesticides and industrial toxicity on communities of color. The dynamic voice of Dr. Nicole Fabricant, Professor of Anthropology at Towson University, highlighted the environmental injustices experienced by residents of the Curtis Bay community in South Baltimore, Md.
Historically, Curtis Bay was a working-class White neighborhood. In recent years, Curtis Bay has seen an increasing Black population, from 25.18 percent in the 2000 Census, rising to 38.74 percent in the 2020 Census.
When one googles “Curtis Bay, Baltimore, Md.,” the first search result is “Curtis Bay Medical Wastes,” a company that operates the nation’s largest medical waste incinerator.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool indicates that Curtis Bay is in the 95 percentile of hazardous waste and is highly polluted. In “A Long View of Polluting Industry and Environmental Justice in Baltimore,” the authors state that “although industries shed thousands of good-paying jobs, Baltimoreans have to live with still-functioning and polluting facilities.
From 2005 to 2010, nearly 120 million pounds of toxic pollutants were released into the air, water, and land of Baltimore City, far greater than any of the surrounding counties in Maryland.” For years, residents have been advocating for an end to the industrial pollution caused by incinerators.
The agrochemical production in Curtis Bay has created some of the country’s highest asthma and respiratory illness rates. The toxic chemical industry has engulfed entire residential areas of Curtis Bay. Fabricant shared that the second-largest coal-export pier in the United States is located in Baltimore, and its open-air coal pit is anchored near a playground in Curtis Bay. Less than a year ago, a toxic explosion at the coal transfer tower of the CSX Curtis Bay Pier wreaked havoc on the community. In addition, large amounts of crude and explosive oil are stored in Curtis Bay.
Fabricant spoke passionately about the pollution and toxicity destroying communities in South Baltimore. And she elevated what a group of young activists is doing to turn things around. Fabricant leads students from Benjamin Franklin high-school and Towson University in a Participatory Action Research Project where young people ask qualitative questions about environmental injustices, conduct research, and disseminate their findings.
“In Curtis Bay, young people are creating solutions,” Fabricant said. “These young people are building out alternative green industries such as Broken Glass and a 64-acre compost site. These young people are developing unionized jobs for Black and Brown youth and community members within Curtis Bay.”
During the pandemic, Fabricant and her students worked on the Cherry Hill Farm, a farm controlled by Black Yield Institute, a Black Power organization in Baltimore. The farm is located in a food apartheid area one mile north of Curtis Bay. This farm provided fresh fruits and vegetables for the community during the pandemic.
Fabricant explained the agro-ecological projects using Black farming and agro-ecological traditions providing food for local communities. She also spoke about how the city of Baltimore decided to rip the land out from underneath because the land was not permanently owned by the community.
There is a need for land and resource redistribution, particularly to Black and Brown communities, said Fabricant. The Black Yield Institute and Farm Alliance have laid out a city-wide plan for Black land reparations. Fabricant noted the importance of supporting programs for land redistribution and radical resource distribution from large-scale organics. More green jobs are needed for the young people of Curtis Bay, and this could be a potential path for large-scale organics.
The South Baltimore Community Land Trust (SBCLT), an organization that builds affordable housing, puts pressure on Baltimore city to ensure that land remains in the hands of Black and Brown communities and organizes around the irreparable damage toxic incinerators and landfills are creating in local communities. Fabricant and her students work directly with SBCLT and believe communities have the solutions. In the fight for justice in Curtis Bay, the invention, initiative, and brilliance that can create an equitable and sustainable future are within the community.
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