Talking Trash In Baltimore (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Talking Trash In Baltimore

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:15:03
So I'm actually still decontaminating myself from that last story, but you are not in the clear. Our next story is about trash, specifically in Baltimore Harbor, and the man whose labor of love is keeping the city's cast-off and forgotten detritus out of the water. Tara Boyle reports.

MS. TARA BOYLE

13:15:21
Raymond Bahr is staring at a pile of trash. More than a pile, it's a mountain of junk spilling out of a Baltimore alley.

MR. RAYMOND BAHR

13:15:29
That's a mini landfill.

BOYLE

13:15:30
So I'm seeing mattresses, soda containers, fans...

BAHR

13:15:35
And pulp four or five feet high in the backyards of vacant houses.

BOYLE

13:15:39
Bahr is a retired cardiologist and community activist in the city's Canton neighborhood, about two miles east of downtown. And I should say we're not actually standing in front of this landfill. We're looking at a photo Bahr took about a year ago. Last summer, he went out on the streets of East Baltimore to figure out where all the trash flowing into the harbor was coming from. And what he found shocked him.

BAHR

13:15:59
So we went up upstream and we found these mini landfills.

BOYLE

13:16:05
More than 100 of them packed with fast food wrappers, dirty diapers, cans and bottles and all sorts of junk that was washing into storm drains. The trash then made its way through the city's underground network of tributaries and into the harbor.

BAHR

13:16:16
We were looking at five tons of trash coming out per month.

BOYLE

13:16:20
Meaning, trash that you could actually just see in the water?

BAHR

13:16:24
Huge, five tons is a lot of trash and these were styrofoam. These were, you know, bottles, plastic things.

BOYLE

13:16:28
And those five tons of styrofoam and bottles and plastic things, that's not even the total for the whole city. That's just one of 26 outlets that feed into Baltimore Harbor. So Bahr began what has become a huge labor of love. He started making phone calls and teamed up with a worker from the Department of Public Works.

BAHR

13:16:48
He had his workers come in within that ten-week period of time and actually, with bulldozers and things like that, clean up this massive amount of accumulation.

BOYLE

13:16:59
After the bulldozers did their thing, Bahr went down to the Harris Creek Outlet which is where all the water from those neighborhoods flows into the harbor.

BAHR

13:17:07
We saw a reduction of trash into the harbor from five tons down to less than one ton per month.

BOYLE

13:17:12
Five tons to less than a ton, but that's still a lot of trash.

DR. RICHARD ESKIN

13:17:19
I don't think that anybody wants to swim in water where you see styrofoam cups and all sorts of trash floating on the surface. And it's also an indication of other nasty things that may be washing into the water.

BOYLE

13:17:30
Dr. Richard Eskin is with the Maryland Department of the Environment. He's also hot on the trail of trash. Right now, he's trying to answer basic question. Just how much of this stuff is going into the harbor?

ESKIN

13:17:43
And we're working with the city and the county on that right now to measure the amount of trash coming in.

BOYLE

13:17:47
Once that's done, they'll come up with what's called a total maximum daily load, the amount of trash that will be allowed into the harbor each day. They recently completed a similar process for the Anacostia River. Since they can't really prevent every last gum wrapper from getting into the water, what they're going for is a target, how much trash they can let slide by?

ESKIN

13:18:08
Basically, we would assess, you know, in terms of tons the amount of trash coming in and then they would have to remove that amount each year from the water body, whether by skimmer boats for trash traps or education.

BOYLE

13:18:22
Raymond Bahr says it would be more efficient to deal with that trash upstream rather than waiting until it's actually in the harbor. He made this point recently as we watched a city team clean soda bottles and other junk from the water at the Harris Creek Outlet.

BAHR

13:18:34
We have all these people, you can see five people right now. They come in and where trash comes down, they push it out beyond the boon and these boats come in and scoop it up.

BOYLE

13:18:46
His solution in part is more trash cans for poor neighborhoods, but Celeste Amato, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, says the city has tried that before with mixed results. What her agency would really like is something bigger, a special fleet of city-owned trash cans for all 193,000 households in the city.

MS. CELESTE AMATO

13:19:06
All these cans would be bar-coded and attached to the household to which they are serving and those cans also happen to have a lid on them that is impossible for rats to push up.

BOYLE

13:19:15
The main obstacle to this plan, no surprise, is money. Still, Bahr says he's not giving up on his campaign. As a cardiologist, he actually pioneered a method for early detection and prevention of heart attacks and looking at trash in the city's waterways makes him think of the human body.

BAHR

13:19:31
I worked on clogged arteries for a long period of time, now I'm working with clogged-up drains. It's the same thing, you know. You find ways of uniquely approaching the problem and showing that it can be done.

BOYLE

13:19:41
And just like a critically ill patient, the Baltimore Harbor, he says, needs a lot of help. I'm Tara Boyle.
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