The Brandywine area was an area of focus during a climate change virtual discussion on July 14.
Members of the Sierra Club, NAACP and a member of the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians discussed climate change and other topics during a 90-minute online forum Tuesday evening.
“We wouldn’t have climate change if we didn’t have systemic racism,” said Rosa Hance, a St. Mary’s County resident who is chair of the Sierra Club’s state chapter. “The white supremacist structure has made it impossible for our Earth to heal and sustain itself,” she said.
“The same communities brutalized by the police force are susceptible to climate change,” said Teresa Ball, a Sierra Club member who moderated the meeting.
Staci Hartwell, chair of the Prince George NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, said she moved back to the area in 2014 and was “shocked to see some things in Brandywine.”
“It’s obscene. It’s a sacrifice zone,” Hance said, noting a number of things that exist in the 21-square-mile Brandywine area where the population is 70% black, including an EPA Superfund site.
The Brandywine Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office was used by U.S. Navy and Air Force installations to store waste and excess governmental materials from 1943 to 1987 and soil and groundwater were contaminated by hazardous chemicals. “Removal actions to address contaminated soil and interim remedial actions to address contaminated groundwater are complete,” according to cumulis.epa.gov. A record of decision remediation plan was signed in March 2018. Hance also said the area contains the Faulkner fly ash landfill, a sludge lagoon, the Chalk Point Power Plant in Aquasco — which has two coal-fired, two oil and natural gas-fired units and six combustion turbines, according to cleanwateraction.com — and the Morgantown power plant in Newburg — which consists of two coal-fired steam generating units, four oil-fired combustion units and two black start peaking turbines. Hance said two gas-fired power plants are also are being built in the area, which she said has more than 3,500 diesel trucks pass through per day.
“On both shores we have power plants,” Hance said, referring to the Potomac and Patuxent rivers. “They have been flagrantly disregarding environmental protections,” adding that one was operating with expired wastewater permitting for years.
“There’s no way to burn coal clean. That was a false narrative,” she said, noting that the byproduct contains mercury, arsenic and selenium.
“How quickly it’s changed over the years,” tribal member Valarie Proctor said, adding that she noticed some new housing when she returned home to Brandywine from college. Referring to the pollution-emitting industries, Proctor said, “If it had more white folks, more wealthy folks, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”
“Calvert County has the highest rate of breast cancer in the state,” Hartwell said. “That water is killing people.” According to pophealth.health.maryland.gov, Calvert had 143.3 breast cancer cases per 100,000 women from 2009-2013, which was higher than the state average of 130.2 and the national average of 123.3.
“One of the biggest problems is we are reacting after the fact and not being proactive,” said Michael Moore, a former Calvert County commissioner who chairs the Calvert NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice committee. “You can’t stop growth, you can manage growth,” he said, adding that he favors local jobs so people don’t have to drive to Washington, D.C.
“We have to look at the economics. Don’t shut them down, penalize them,” he said of polluters.
Ball said MedStar is building a new facility in Charles County that will have a cancer wing. “These jobs are created as a result of health issues,” she said.
“We have a pause right now,” Hance said. “We have this moment in time where people are willing to listen.”
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Moore said. “You’ve gotta get more people involved.”
Hance noted that “everyone can join the NAACP, just like the Sierra Club.”
Hartwell said that, in addition to organizing and communicating with others about climate change, individuals can do things on their own. For example, she uses chopsticks and a metal spoon and fork when she has to eat away from home, rather than plastic utensils. She also uses paper straws instead of plastic and encourages people to install solar on their homes.