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Maryland Department of the Environment

New Scientific Study Confirms Airborne Coal Dust in Curtis Bay Community

Findings will be considered in review of operating permit for South Baltimore coal export terminal 

BALTIMORE (Dec. 14, 2023) – A scientific study released today by the Community of Curtis Bay Association, the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) confirms the presence of coal dust in the air of the South Baltimore community of Curtis Bay. These findings will be considered during the review of CSX Transportation’s coal export terminal operating permit, which has been administratively extended since Sept. 30 to allow for additional community input.

“This study was produced in partnership with the community, universities, and our best scientists and air quality experts at the Maryland Department of the Environment,” said Secretary Serena McIlwain. “We will let the science and data identified in this study lead the way as we consider a new permit for the Curtis Bay coal terminal through the lens of environmental justice.” 

The study, which will be presented at tonight’s community association meeting, is the most advanced community-led air quality monitoring project ever undertaken in Maryland. It will serve as scientific evidence of community impacts in review of the 5-year air quality operating permit for the coal terminal. Coal particles were identified at all eight community sampling locations and all samples during three different rounds of collection, including at residences, and near businesses, a church, a park, and a school. 

The scientific evidence supports observations and testimony residents have shared with MDE about the impact of coal dust on their homes and community. MDE will analyze the report and develop a draft operating permit for public review by early February. The department will accept written comments on the draft permit and hold a community meeting before making a final decision on the permit application. For more information on the permit process, visit our website.  

The study was initiated following an explosion at the terminal at the end of 2021 for which the company was subject to enforcement action by MDE and the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

The monitoring network consists of a series of multi-pollutant sensors placed at various locations in the community, supplemented by field sampling of dust throughout the community performed by citizen scientists. The partners will expand the sensor network in the coming months using a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Scientists used sophisticated statistical analysis and electron microscopy to measure the overall air pollution burden in the community and identify coal dust from the facility. 

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