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July 23, 2011

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida residents suffer exposure to more toxic air pollution from power plants burning coal and oil than residents of any other state, according to a new report.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental action group, analyzed publicly available data from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

The TRI is a database that tracks disposal and other releases, including emissions into the air, for over 6000 toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities across the United States. Facilities self-report data to the TRI. Residents can go to the TRI website and enter their zip code to see which facilities in their area report toxins to the TRI, and what kind of toxins they report.

The NRDC looked at data from the electric utilities sector compared to other sectors and found that in 2009, it was the largest source of industrial emissions of toxic air pollution, including toxins such as mercury and hydrochloric acid. Their toxic pollution accounted for nearly 50% of all toxins reported by industrial facilities.

The NRDC and the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) jointly released the report, entitled “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States.”

The states on the NRDC’s "Toxic 20" list for coal and oil burning power plant pollution (from worst to best) are:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa

The report identified the top three power plant polluters as Keystone Power Plant in Pennsylvania, Brandon Shores Power Plant in Maryland and the Crist Power Plant in Florida.

Exposure to toxic pollution from power plants can cause respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis, birth defects, cancer and developmental problems effecting children’s brains, language and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

“Power plants are the biggest industrial toxic air polluters in our country, putting children and families at risk by dumping deadly and dangerous poisons into the air we breathe," said Dan Lashof, Climate Center Director at NRDC in a release. "Tougher standards are long overdue. Members of Congress who consider blocking toxic pollution safeguards should understand that this literally will cost American children and families their health and lives.”

The NRDC chastised elected officials for trying to block the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), regulation that would limit power plant pollution. There is currently no national limit on the amount of mercury and other toxin emissions from power plants. The EPA estimates the regulation will prevent hundreds of thousands of illnesses and up to 17,000 premature deaths each year.

“Coal pollution is killing Americans,” said Lynn Ringenberg, MD, of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It is America’s biggest source of toxic air pollution. Air toxics from coal-fired power plants cause cancer, birth defects and respiratory illness. Just one of those air toxics, mercury, damages the developing brains of fetuses, infants and small children. It robs our children of healthy neurological development and native intelligence.”

“Poisonous power threatens the health of our kids and families. As a pediatrician for over thirty years, I urge us absolutely to support the EPA’s efforts to reduce the health threat from coal,” Dr. Ringenberg said.

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