Curtis Bay residents rally for accountability one year after CSX explosion

Published 11/30/2022 7:32 p.m. EST, Updated 12/1/2022 8:37 a.m. EST

Protesters and activists march through Curtis Bay to the CSX facility on Wednesday.

“Hey hey, ho ho, CSX has got to go!”

“No coal for Christmas!”

“Health over wealth!”

About 60 people rallied and marched in Curtis Bay on Wednesday night to demand accountability from CSX, the transportation company that operates the coal terminal in South Baltimore where there was an explosion last year.

“They can’t even guarantee us it won’t explode again,” said Shashawnda Campbell, an organizer with the South Baltimore Community Land Trust.

It’s been just under one year since the explosion that rocked South Baltimore and covered Curtis Bay in coal dust. There have been two public hearings about the explosion; a representative from CSX was only present at one of them.

And, Campbell said, there’s been “no accountability” from the company since then.

In August, the Maryland Department of the Environment offered CSX a chance to settle prior to litigation for violations of Maryland’s ambient air quality control law. A spokesperson for the agency said Wednesday that “conversations are ongoing.”

And in October, two residents filed a lawsuit against the company, seeking class-action status for residents of Curtis Bay. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks damages and the establishment of a medical monitoring fund for people who live in the proposed class area.

Attorneys from Nidel & Nace, the firm representing the residents, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Baltimore Banner.

During the rally, protesters said CSX’s claims that it’s a good neighbor and pro-environment are false. The group marched several blocks through the neighborhood and up to the gated entry to the company’s facility, chanting and reiterating their calls for accountability.

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Campbell said residents don’t want CSX to shut down. Rather, she said, they want the company to transition away from shipping coal and to remove the coal piles from Curtis Bay.

“They cannot control the dust that is getting into people’s homes, and they have shown that for decades now,” she said.

She also said she “absolutely” supports the lawsuit pursuing damages and a medical monitoring fund.

In a statement, a representative from CSX said the company is “deeply committed to safe and environmentally sound operations at all of our facilities. The Curtis Bay facility has been operating for over 140 years without an incident like the one that occurred last December which fortunately did not result in any injuries. We have been working with federal and state environmental and safety officials since it occurred and remain committed to the safety and health of our employees and our neighboring communities.”

The statement also said the company is improving airflow and air quality monitoring at the facility to prevent another explosion from happening. A buildup of methane gas is what caused the explosion, a CSX representative told Baltimore officials in August.

Nikki Fabricant, another organizer with South Baltimore Community Land Trust and an associate professor at Towson University, said protesters wanted to call attention to the lack of changes nearly a year after the explosion and to bring the conversation back to Curtis Bay. In August, for example, City Councilmember Phylicia Porter said she was calling for a suspension of the company’s operations at the coal terminal — though nothing has come from that.

“A lot of us felt some energy against CSX, but then it fizzled away,” Fabricant said.

After the march, residents gathered under a pavilion near the neighborhood recreation center. One of the residents, Angie Shaneyfelt, said her kids are still scared nearly a year after the explosion. They constantly worry another one is coming — but she’s lived with the effects of the coal facility for much longer.

“I have not opened my windows for 15 years. That’s not right,” she said. “I love fresh air, but we don’t get it in this community.”