Glenn Ross, 73, began leading Urban Environmentalist Toxic Tours in order to clean up his neighborhood and fight environmental injustice. (Courtesy photo)
Glenn Ross, 73, began leading Urban Environmentalist Toxic Tours in order to clean up his neighborhood and fight environmental injustice. (Courtesy photo)

Native Baltimorean Glenn Ross spends his days showing people mountainous piles of garbage in his own city. The 73-year-old self-described “urban environmentalist” began leading Urban Environmentalist Toxic Tours in east Baltimore as a part of his decades-long effort to raise awareness of and clean up the 19 toxic sites he has identified in the area. Predominantly black neighborhoods in Baltimore do not receive the proper attention and care like predominantly white neighborhoods. This results in broken-down houses and more health hazards within the black communities.

Ross had found over 19 toxic sites in east Baltimore alone. There are only a total of 25 sites in Maryland including nearby towns documented on the EPA’s website and none of them are the ones that Ross found. He knew that these numbers didn’t add up, so he took action. His goal is for the leaders of Baltimore to condemn these sites properly and clean up urban neighborhoods regularly just like the white neighborhoods in the city.

One site is right next to his neighborhood on the 100 block of Edison Highway. The site currently is a landfill that is well over three stories high without any form of documentation. During his childhood, the landfill was just an ARMCO steel plant. After that, the plant was shut down, destroyed, and ended up being a military cemetery. The cemetery was then bulldozed and the area was used for trash. Families of the deceased were not notified before the demolition. Without any records of it, not many people are aware of this history.

His father was a top union official at a steelmaking company called Bethlehem Steel. The company ceased all operations in 2003, but his father still motivated him not to accept mediocrity. Being a single father, Ross had a fire that was ignited within him that led to becoming the director of the Urban Environmental Toxic Tour.

The Urban Environmental Toxic Tours serves a purpose for educating tourists about the environmental racism and commercial contamination. Taking on the role as the director was only one part of Ross’ trail of success. Becoming President of the McElderry Park Community Association for a total of seven terms was another accomplishment that was checked off the list.

There have been many positions in the political system that Ross has been a part of. He’s worked for many city council members and mayors. His service allowed him to experience the good and bad parts of our political system all while trying to fight against environmental racism. He currently is an advocate of the community for Johns Hopkins Medical Center and continues to conduct tours.

Out of all of the positions that Glenn Ross took over, of course there were setbacks and triumphs that he had experienced. Not everyone including people in powerful positions were eager to inform Baltimoreans about these superfund sites. Some even tried to take extreme measures to keep Ross quiet.

Ross had received threats before if he didn’t stop informing citizens about the dangers of these sites near urban areas. He refused to let those threats stop him from cracking down on health issues that nearby residents were facing. He was even offered other jobs for the community in order to distract him from his original plan to expose these superfund sites.

Residents that live in the same area as Ross suffer from respiratory issues due to the dust that accumulates from the landfill. Ross has even lived with asthma while the landfill grew higher and higher throughout his time living near it. Construction workers crush debris into smaller portions and during the process, dust goes into the air causing residents to suffer in the long run. “They found crushed glass, asphalt and cement. People were complaining of irritation to their eyes, skin, and coughing up blood. They found out that they were inhaling glass particles for years,” said Ross. This cycle repeats itself until the landfill gets too tall and then they’ll eventually need to find another spot to dump the trash.

Caring about his fellow neighbors’ health kept Ross focused on the end goal: getting scheduled clean-ups for these newly founded sites. Unfortunately, he went to great lengths to take care of everyone in his community that he neglected his own health. He was used to putting everyone first ever since he took on the role of a single father and an environmentalist. He had forgotten about his needs.

Neglecting his own health, the community thought that Glenn Ross was no more. “In 2000, I was pronounced dead in my home office,” said Ross. He was found in his office after a build-up of high blood pressure, pneumonia, blood sugar level over 700, and congestive heart failure. He was only 50 years old and weighed in at just under 400 pounds. Doctors kept him in the hospital for about a week before he was allowed to go home. He even beat cancer three times during his early years. Prostate, breast, and liver cancer failed to stop him from his plan.

After looking death in the face, Ross took his health more seriously while trying to save the world. “We as community advocates have a hazard of doing everything for everyone, but we don’t take care of ourselves,” Ross explained. In fact, he decided to change his diet after that incident and is faithful to keeping a close eye on his health to this day. He knew that after all that he had overcome, his story was not yet finished.

As a man with ambition and determination, he is not going to give up easily. Especially after being thought of as a political threat while simultaneously being a hero. Ross knew what his mission would include and what he would have to deal with (good or bad). He wasn’t scared when he first started his journey and he still has the same fierce attitude to this day.

He took advantage of the opportunities that were set to make his community better without a second thought. The obstacles put in front of him did not prosper and with all of his hard work, more citizens are becoming aware of the environmental issues that are detrimental to their neighborhoods and health.

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