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How Does the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse Impact Climate Change?

On March 26, 2024, at approximately 1:30 a.m., the cargo ship Dali crashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, resulting in its immediate collapse. The Singapore cargo ship Dali is 985 feet long and 157 feet wide, making it capable of holding up to 116,000 tons of cargo, including 764 tons of hazardous materials. It departed from the Port of Baltimore and made its way carefully to the Francis Scott Key Bridge where it started to lose power just moments before making contact with the bridge. If a ship loses power, it is detrimental to the safety of the crew and the functionality of the ship. Every vital system on the ship needs power to operate including the steering and the propulsion systems. However, the crew was prepared and activated the backup generators, giving power back to the ship. The path under the bridge was commencing smoothly until more misfortune struck. To make things worse, Dali lost power at least two more times after the initial blackout. With no control over the steering and no power to release the anchor in hopes of stopping the collision, there was nothing they could’ve done to prevent the disaster that struck. Even though police were notified to stop all vehicles from crossing the bridge, there was still a group of construction workers on the bridge who weren’t aware of the situation. This tragedy wasn’t just the collapse of a key bridge, but the maiming or killing of at least eight people.

How does this event affect climate change? As mentioned before, the cargo ship Dali was carrying 764 tons of toxic waste. Dharna Noor from The Guardian Newspaper wrote an article that states, “The massive container vessel that struck the bridge on its way out of the Baltimore harbor was carrying at least 56 containers of hazardous material… Fourteen of those containers were destroyed during the crash, officials said, but they detected no immediate cause for concern – at least not yet.” Further into the article, she mentions that they discovered a “sheen” in the waters.” which could have also come from the cars that fell during the bridge collapse. A sheen is a shiny appearance that could be caused by petroleum products finding their way into the water. The reason why it is detrimental to the environment if hazardous waste is exposed to our waters is because it can contaminate and destroy the ocean’s ecosystem. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) they state that “When these habitats are damaged or destroyed, it is not only their carbon sequestration capacity that is lost. Carbon stored in the habitats can also be released, contributing to increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” Toxic waste can severely damage marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves. These ecosystems are capable of absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide and storing it. When they’re damaged, it can reduce their capacity to store carbon and will cause them to release carbon into the atmosphere. If this toxic waste is within the ocean waters, it could indirectly impact climate change by increasing the amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

In addition to the hazardous materials being exposed to the waters, the collapse of the bridge also presents significant environmental concerns. With the fall of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the government will have to implement extensive recovery efforts to recover all the parts of the bridge. To salvage all the debris, they will need heavy machinery and vehicles, all of which emit carbon dioxide when they operate. Not only will extra fuel be used for the recovery process, but vehicles and ships that normally use the key bridge will have to use more fuel to get to their destinations. Ships will be rerouted to alternative ports while trucks and personal vehicles will be taking longer paths around the damaged area. This increase in the amount of fuel burned will increase the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

The Baltimore Bridge incident highlights the interconnectedness of infrastructure failures and broader environmental impacts. It shows the need for sustainable planning for future framework and emergency response strategies that consider long-term ecological health. The Department of Transportation plans to rebuild the key bridge and make the new design to have an increased resilience to climate change. With the full support of President Biden, they plan on beginning recovery and repairs to have the Port of Baltimore back open.

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