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The Rosedale area consists of a mixed residential/industrial area in southeast Baltimore County, due east from Baltimore City (Figure 1). The area contains a high concentration of industries, dumpsites, former landfills, garbage incineration plants, and highways. In addition, there are future plans for a soil recycling facility. The community was concerned that air contamination from many different industrial areas (Figure 2) may be causing their health problems. The community was also concerned about a perceived high incidence of cancer, prevalence of respiratory diseases, learning disabilities, and their drinking water. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) prepared this health consultation to address the community concerns.

In May 1992, ATSDR received a petition to arrange for an environmental health risk survey of the Rosedale area. ATSDR staff conducted a scoping visit on September 10 and 11, 1992 and met with the petitioner, community members, and members of the Southeast Association for the Environment (SAFE). As part of the scoping visit, ATSDR staff met with the community and gathered information and community concerns. At that time, the community listed thirteen (13) industries in the area that they felt were causing their health problems. ATSDR staff also identified some residences on Philadelphia Avenue with private drinking water wells.

According to the 1990 U.S. Government census data [1], approximately 64,859 people live in the Rosedale area. The demographics structure consists of a distribution of 69% white, 28% black, and 3% other races of the total population. Children, age 6 and younger make up 10.43%, and adults aged 65 and older make up 15.40% of the total population (Figure 1). In February 1993, ATSDR discussed the petition with the Cooperative Agreement partner of the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE). At that time, the MDE agreed to begin studies to evaluate health outcome data for cancer mortality and respiratory diseases in the Rosedale area and develop a community assistance panel to discuss community concerns and health information.


In 1993, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) completed an analysis of cancer data collected from 1987 to 1989 for cancer deaths in District Six, Baltimore County [6]. Rosedale is a small corner of District 6 [14]. This 3-year period was chosen because it represented the most current data available at that time. The report concluded that Rosedale had an age-adjusted yearly total cancer death rate of 157 deaths per 100,000 population; District Six had a rate of 174 deaths per 100,000 population; Maryland had a rate of 192 deaths per 100,000 population; and the United States 172 deaths per 100,000 population. When combined, five types of cancer accounted for over half of the cancer deaths found in the Rosedale and District Six areas: lung (31.1%); colon (10.1%); breast (7.6%); pancreas (5.5%) and prostate (4.1%) [6]. From this analysis, MDE concluded that Rosedale did not have a higher cancer death rate than District Six, Maryland or the United States. In many cases mortality can be prevented by improving access to preventive services, such as screening and early detection, treatment and health behavior modification.

The MDE report also concluded that: 1) there was no particular geographic pattern for the cancer deaths; 2) higher cancer rates were significantly correlated with low income, suggesting that income-related issues pertaining to access to medical care may be responsible for some cancer deaths; and, 3) since some of the residences on Philadelphia Avenue were identified as having private wells, MDE evaluated cancer data and determined that there was no correlation between the source of water (public versus residential wells) and the rate of cancer deaths.

In March 1994, the Baltimore County Department of Health reported the results of a Cancer Cluster Inquiry Report [14]. The results indicated that there is no evidence of a cancer cluster in the Rosedale area. Most of the cases were among the elderly, and there were no cases identified that could be specifically associated with environmental exposures. The numbers of cancer deaths in Rosedale did not exceed what would be expected for a population of this size [8].

On March 26, 1998, the Maryland Cancer Registry analyzed cancer incidence rates for the zip code 21237 for data collected from 1991-1995 [11]. Rosedale occupies the southern portion of the zip code [14]. The data indicated that the cancer incidence rate for this area of Rosedale was not significantly different than the rates for Maryland or the United States. The report concluded that there was no increase in the rate of cancer mortality in this zip code area.

While environmental factors may influence some types of cancers, known risk factors such as: infectious diseases, genetics, the lifestyle habits (smoking, alcohol use, etc.), and diet may play a more important role [12,13].

The community also expressed concerns about respiratory diseases related to environmental contamination and about learning disabilities. However, ATSDR cannot evaluate these concerns because no specific source of contamination was identified, the geographic area that was identified is very large in scope and consists of thirteen industries, and there is a lack of health outcome data available to evaluate these health problems.

ATSDR Child Health Initiative

ATSDR's Child Health Initiative recognizes that the unique vulnerabilities of infants and children demand special emphasis in communities faced with a possible contamination of their water, soil, air, or food. ATSDR evaluated the likelihood for children living in Rosedale to be exposed to any type of contamination; however, there is not enough information to make a determination about past, current or future exposures in the Rosedale area that could result in health effects to children.


1) ATSDR classifies the Southeast Baltimore, Rosedale area, as an indeterminate health hazard. This classification is based on the fact that Southeast Baltimore is a large complex industrial area, there is no environmental data specific to the Rosedale area to evaluate, and a specific source of contamination or exposure was not clearly defined.

2) ATSDR reviewed the Maryland Department of Health reports on cancer incidence data for the Rosedale area. No increase in cancer incidence in the Rosedale area was observed when compared to the incidence rates for Maryland or the United States.

3) ATSDR could not address the community concerns about respiratory ailments or learning disabilities because a specific source of exposure was not clearly defined.



1) The Rosedale community may benefit from community health education programs.


Lovyst L. Luker
Environmental Health Scientist
Petition Response Section
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Adele Childress
Environmental Health Scientist
Petition Response Section
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Naymarie Garay
Oak Ridge Fellow
Petition Response Section
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation


Frank Schnell
Petition Response Section
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation


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