The process of burning fossil fuels requires massive amounts of water and energy. For this reason, most plants are located in coastal areas, adjacent to large bodies of water. Gould Street Power Plant sits on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, diverting its water through the facility to be heated by burnt coal. The steam produced rotates large turbines, thus creating electricity for the city. This production lasted from 1904 until the plant’s retirement in June of 2019. Similarly, Baltimore’s waste to energy incinerator is comprised of a furnace, boiler, and “air pollution control system”, as any combustion based plant. BRESCO, or the Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Company, runs the Wheelabrator incinerator that pulls water from the Gwynns Falls stream, a branch of the Patapsco River.
In recent years, Wheelabrator has experienced scrutiny for their lack of sustainable pollution controls. Non profit environmental groups constantly attempt to regulate nitrous oxides, a byproduct of burning waste that can contribute to ground level ozone and worsen respiratory issues like asthma. With Baltimore’s asthma cases almost triple that of the national average, the city has demanded a reduction of the 1,100 tons of nitrous oxides that are released from the incinerator annually. Air that is contaminated with concentrations of nitrogen and other pollutants settle into local waterways and airways. As a vital part of algal growth and function, nitrogen has a specific role in any aquatic ecosystem. Failure to maintain balance in that system can result in nutrient pollution. Pictured here is the Gwynns Falls stream in January of 2019, with the reflection of BRESCO’s steam in its waters. The green algal bloom is caused by an excess of nitrogen present in the surrounding air. This spike in plant growth leads to the depletion of oxygen readily available for other organisms, and ultimately the death of an ecosystem.