November 19, 2017
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  • With the Maryland Department of the Environment set to install an air monitor in North Anne Arundel County, the Stoney Beach community will soon have answers about how its air quality is affected by emissions from the nearby Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station on Fort Smallwood Road.
    With the Maryland Department of the Environment set to install an air monitor in North Anne Arundel County, the Stoney Beach community will soon have answers about how its air quality is affected by emissions from the nearby Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station on Fort Smallwood Road.
  • With the Maryland Department of the Environment set to install an air monitor in North Anne Arundel County, the Stoney Beach community will soon have answers about how its air quality is affected by emissions from the nearby Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station on Fort Smallwood Road.
    With the Maryland Department of the Environment set to install an air monitor in North Anne Arundel County, the Stoney Beach community will soon have answers about how its air quality is affected by emissions from the nearby Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station on Fort Smallwood Road.

MDE To Install Air Monitor At Riviera Beach Elementary By End Of November

Dylan Roche
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October 19, 2017

When the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) met with the Greater Pasadena Council in October 2016, the citizens in attendance had a clear message — they wanted definite answers about the quality of the air they were breathing in their communities downwind of the Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station on Fort Smallwood Road. A year later, they are soon going to get those answers as the state prepares to install a sulfur dioxide monitor near the plant to assess the quality of the air.

“We’d like to understand exactly what the health effects are, if any, and we hope the state of Maryland is right that there isn’t a nonattainment issue to be dealt with,” explained Allan Straughan, chairman of the Greater Pasadena Council.

Concern spread throughout the Pasadena community after a 2016 ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the area within a 15-mile radius of the Wagner plant was in nonattainment with federal standards, but MDE disagreed with the EPA’s findings. Both reports were based on models rather than data collected from monitors, leaving citizens wanting to know the truth about the air they were breathing.

“MDE was opposing the EPA’s position because there was no scientific basis for the nonattainment basis; it was based on modeling techniques that may or may not be correct,” explained John Garofolo, president of the Stoney Beach Condominium Association, who said that he, as a scientist, understands “how statistics can be used to defend any position.” He expressed to representatives from MDE that he found the department negligent for not having monitors within proximity to the plant. With his community’s 458 homes — and more than 1,000 residents — within 1,500 feet of the Wagner smokestacks, Garofolo was adamant that MDE look out for their health and safety. “I said, ‘You need to do the responsible thing,’” he explained.

Garofolo, Straughan and other advocates pushed state legislators to require a monitor to measure the area’s exposure, and in June, MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles announced that the state would install a monitor by fall 2017.

After considering nine potential sites recommended by residents, MDE and EPA concluded Riviera Beach Elementary School would be the best place for the monitor. “It’s in an area expected to have high levels according to the models,” explained Tad Aburn, director of the air and radiation administration with MDE. “It’s in an area with a high population, and there aren’t buildings or trees that would interfere with the way the monitor collects the data.”

Community members had reservations with the location when MDE first proposed it as a possibility. “The community came back with a counter suggestion that they locate the monitoring station either at the Orchard Beach fire house or Solley Elementary,” Straughan said, noting that both of those locations are more in the path of the wind. “More times in a given year, the wind blows east to west, and therefore, a location to the west of the station would provide a better measurement of sulfur dioxide contamination.”

Aburn emphasized that Riviera Beach Elementary “is clearly the best choice” for the monitor to be installed. “When you site a monitor, there’s always somebody who wants it at a different site,” he said. “It’s not one of those things where there’s a perfect spot.” Riviera Beach Elementary meets federal siting criteria, allows for easy access to power and provides a secure area for the monitor to be located.

Now that a site has been determined, MDE foresees very few hurdles and expects the monitor to be up and running by the end of November.

“We’re hoping they make that data easily available to us,” Garofolo said. “Once the monitor gets activated, if we see levels of sulfur dioxide, we can notify the community and urge folks to keep their children inside.”

He expressed frustration, however, that up until this point he and other citizens have had to push so hard for progress on the issue. “What I found disconcerting in all this is that MDE seems to consistently not support the public without a bit of prodding,” he said. “I found that disconcerting as a citizen because I thought they were there to protect the citizens of the state, and we had to fight an uphill battle.”

Regardless of whether the monitors show the area to be in attainment or nonattainment, Aburn said Maryland is still developing a state implementation plan for 2018 that will include controls designed to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

“The monitors are a real-world check that the levels in the area are below the standard, but they don’t really have a role in driving us to have a plan because that’s already required by law,” Aburn said. “I think the work we’re going to do is going to show that the levels in the area are protective of public health and we have nothing to worry about.”


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