By Rita R. Robison
Consumers deserve clean air, but in some states they get a bigger dose of pollutants than other areas.
Residents of Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are exposed to more toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants than in any other state, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The states on the "Toxic 20" list, from worst to best, are:
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
The report found a 19 percent decrease in all air toxics emitted from power plants in 2010, compared to 2009 levels. The drop, which also includes a 4 percent decrease in mercury emissions, comes from two factors.
The increasing use by power companies of natural gas, which has become cheaper and is cleaner burning than coal.
The installation of the latest technology in pollution controls by many plants – in anticipation of new health protections issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Toxic pollution is already being reduced as a result of EPA’s health-protecting standards,” John Walke, the council’s clean air director, said in a statement. “But these protections are threatened because polluters are intent on persuading future Congresses or presidential administrations to repeal them.”
Finalized in 2011, EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standards will cut mercury air pollution by 79 percent from 2010 levels, beginning in 2015.
In the second edition of “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,” the council also found that coal- and oil-fired power plants still contribute nearly half – 44 percent – of all the toxic air pollution reported to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.
Compared to 2010 levels, the standard will reduce mercury pollution from 34 tons to 7 tons, a 79 percent reduction, by 2015, according to the council. Sulfur dioxide pollution will be reduced from 5,140,000 tons in 2010 to 1,900,000 tons in 2015, a 63 percent reduction. Another acid gas, hydrochloric acid, will be reduced from 106,000 tons in 2010 to 5,500 tons in 2015, a 95 percent reduction.
With those and other pollution reductions resulting from the standard, as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital visits, 4,700 heart attacks, and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis will be avoided in 2016, the council said. The public health improvements are also estimated to save $37 billion to $90 billion in health costs, and prevent up to 540,000 missed work or “sick” days each year.
Despite the overall reductions in total emissions, 18 of the Toxic 20 from 2009 remain in the 2010 list released today, although several states have made significant improvements highlighted in the report, the council said.