David MacIntosh, the principal scientist who compiled the study, says the harmful emissions will reach you, whether you live within sight of a power plant or dozens of miles away.
“Many studies show that in terms of location, the communities nearest the facility receive the greatest exposures from the power plant emissions and therefore, face some of the greatest risks,” MacIntosh says. “The further you get away, then you get a combined impact from multiple power plants as their emissions mix and move through the atmosphere.”
According to the report, more than 400 power plants in 44 states release more than 386-thosand tons of hazardous air pollutants into the air each year.
“Children are among those at greatest risk of elevated exposures to mercury (which) can impair learning,” MacIntosh says. “Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the country.”
He says coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollution in the United States than any other industrial pollution source.
MacIntosh says, “The elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, like asthma, or maybe they have a heart condition, those people are at the greatest risk of additional exposure to some of the microscopic particles in the air that we breathe and are largely attributed to emissions from coal-fired power plants.”
He says coal-fired power plants emit one-hundred times more radioactive material than an equal-sized nuclear power plant. Still, he singles out one plant in the state for doing things right.
“In Nebraska, there are a handful of facilities that we’ve identified,” MacIntosh says. “One of the better performing appears to be the facility in Nebraska City, where it has controls for fine particle emissions, acid gas emissions as well as mercury.”
The report lists the seven coal-fired power plants in Nebraska as: Lon Wright in Freemont, Platte Power Plant in Grand Island, Sheldon Station in Hallam, Whelan Energy Center in Hastings, Nebraska City in Nebraska City, North Omaha in Omaha and Gerard Gentleman in Sutherland.
He also singles out a power plant in western Iowa, just across the Missouri River from Omaha. “The facility in Council Bluffs has controls to specifically reduce emissions of the metals and the fine particles that go with them, also to remove the emissions from some of the acid gases which are highly corrosive and also the mercury,” MacIntosh says. “The Council Bluffs plant is a good example of a well-equipped coal-fired power plant.”
MacIntosh is a professor of Environmental Studies at Brandeis University and is technical advisor to the World Health Organization’s International Program for Chemical Safety.
The report “Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants” is available at www.lungusa.org