Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2010 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Toxic Playground: The Story of Baltimore’s Swann Park
Buckley, Geoffrey
Co-Authors: Geoffrey L. Buckley and Michelle Chevalier

Abstract: Environmental justice, as both a field of inquiry and a social movement, examines the distribution of environmental amenities and disamenities against the backdrop of racism, classism, and sexism. Simply stated, the field seeks to redress inequitable distributions of environmental "goods" and "bads." Initially, researchers focused primarily on the distribution of disamenities (e.g., the siting of landfills, transfer stations, power plants, and polluting industries near low-income minority neighborhoods). More recent research has considered the distribution of amenities as well as disamenities (e.g., parks, playgrounds, and street trees). This paper investigates how Swann Park, a neighborhood recreational area in Baltimore, Maryland, challenges our ideas about what constitutes an amenity. In 1976, the park, which was established in the late nineteenth century, was closed temporarily so that the Allied Chemical Company and U.S. EPA could carry out "precautionary" testing for kepone contamination. Given a clean bill of health, the park was reopened a short time later. Then, in 2006, arsenic levels more than one hundred times the level considered safe were discovered at the site. Personal interviews and archival data indicate that Allied Chemical was aware of the contamination as early as 1970 but chose not to share these data with state or local health officials.