We sat down in a rather sterile room facing each other, heads cocked toward the projector. Rupert Denny, a key member of the Steinweg company in Baltimore, presented information about the port’s history and the company’s involvement. I was most interested in the environmental aspects that have changed over the years with the incredible boat traffic and expansion of the Port.
The air quality is heavily affected in the area; while ship transportation is more desirable than terrestrial transport, it results in massive amounts of pollution. Rupert informed us that if all of the tracked transport ship pollution was a country, it would be the sixth largest polluter. This lends itself to water pollution, for example through rain events. First off, the pollution trapped in clouds is then deposited on the ground; this is typically falling onto impervious surfaces, resulting in pollution of the harbor. One of the largest issues for the harbor is the urban impact, especially with the infrastructure crisis currently unfolding. There are too many people in the area for the sewer systems to handle, and dry weather allows the pipes to crack, thus distributing unprocessed fecal matter into the storm water drains, polluting the harbor.
My first tour of the inner workings of Baltimore’s Port was from a marvelous tug boat, on a beautiful fall day. As we passed incredibly large vessels, Rupert discussed their purpose: container carriers, coal bulker, and coastal tanker. These three vessels in particular run the risk of wreaking havoc on the already fragile Baltimore Harbor ecosystem.
Carrier containers supply our Dollar General and Wal Mart with our imported tchotchkes. These massive containers require large cranes to remove them from the ship’s deck, as well as the time to do so in an orderly fashion. For me, these steel tins reflect our insane consumerism desires, and our infatuation with mindless spending. Many of these containers will contain small, plastic items. After your child chews on that shiny, yellow rubber ducky, where will it end up? In the trash, which may eventually find its way back to the waters from which it originally arrived in the country.
Coal bulkers transport tons of coal to different companies on the port. This concerns me for the local and global community. Locally, this can produce acid raid and acidic run-off straight into the harbor. Globally, I see there is great destruction occurring in order to extract this dirty energy resource. However, coastal tankers may harbor the most potential for danger. These vessels carry thousands of gallons of harsh chemicals, able to spill at any point in the journey. Rupert pointed out the large white storage units, and informed us of previous accidents they have experienced in the port, due to leaks in the storage area. This should not be an issue, as we should have the technology to prevent such catastrophes.
The Baltimore Harbor was a rude awakening for me, demonstrating first hand the level of consumerism we have as well as how close to a disaster we are at any moment in time during product exchange. I hope we are able to find a way to change our lifestyles in order to reduce the demand for such products and services, this minimizing our destructive habits on the environments around us. This may be the only way the harbor can potentially be brought back to a non-hazardous state; one in which future generations can enjoy this natural playground, swimming and fishing as they please.