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US: Maryland Power Plants Linked to 700 Premature Deaths Per Year

Environmental News Service
February 15th, 2006

Nationwide, 700 premature deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks and 400 pediatric emergency room visits each year are linked to current pollution from six Maryland power plants, according to a new study released today by the Maryland Nurses Association (MNA).

Conducted by Dr. Jonathan Levy, assistant professor of environmental health and risk assessment, Harvard School of Public Health, the study looks at the impact of particulate matter and gases that contribute to fine particle pollution from the Chalk Point, Dickerson, Morgantown, C.P. Crane, Brandon Shores, and H.A. Wagner power plants. The plants are powered by coal, oil and natural gas.

“Considering health outcomes based on current population estimates, the six power plants together have an annual impact in Maryland of approximately 100 premature deaths, 4,000 asthma attacks, and over 100,000 person-days with minor restrictions in activity, among other health outcomes," the Levy report concludes.

"The corresponding annual national impacts are approximately 700 deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks, and nearly 800,000 person-days with minor restrictions in activity," according to Levy's report.

Maryland Nurses Association Community Health Specialist Brenda Afzal said today, “Power plant pollution is a major public health problem in Maryland. This study simply documents what every nurse in this state already knows is true."

The MNA and the American Lung Association are asking that the power plants be required to install or upgrade commercially available technologies like scrubbers to reduce the amount of fine particle pollution emitted from their stacks.

American Lung Association of Maryland President and CEO Steve Peregoy said, “This is a problem that we can and should do something about. Commercially available technologies like scrubbers can reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent or more, and would be expected to reduce fine particle health effects caused by sulfur dioxide by a corresponding amount.”

Power plant emissions are the easiest pollution to remedy, the nurses and health advocates say, pointing out that most of the remaining fine particulate matter comes from numerous other sources such as automobiles and out of state power plants, that may be more difficult for Maryland to control.

Afzal said, "When you can point to hundreds of deaths and thousands of other hospitalizations tied to a single problem like this, there is a compelling case to be made for public action. Death and illness from power plant pollution strikes at the most vulnerable Maryland residents – the children and seniors – leaving it to the rest of us to do the right thing.”

Between eight and 20 percent of the impacts of the six power plants occur in Maryland, which has two percent of the U.S. population, Levy found.

The study notes that fine particles disperse over hundreds of kilometers after they are formed, and all six of the plants studied are only a short drive from Maryland borders.

Most of the balance of the deaths and illness cases linked to the power plant pollution are in downwind states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, along with impacts in Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well. These states also are experiencing extra pollution-related premature deaths and other serious health consequences as a result of the emissions from these six power plants, Levy concludes.

The study indicates that while individuals in Maryland are at greater risk from this pollution than residents of other states, the total public health burdens outside of the state are higher than inside the state.

Levy said, “The combustion of fossil fuel from power plants and other sources generates particles smaller than 2.5 microns, or less than one-tenth the width of a human hair. Hundreds of studies have established that these fine particles trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate cardiovascular disease, and contribute to thousands of premature deaths every year from heart and lung disease and, to a lesser extent, from lung cancer."

"Because the formation and transport of fine particles is well understood, and the link between exposure and disease reasonably well established," he said, "it is possible to estimate the health effects associated with emissions from specific power plants.”

The area where the power plants are located are not in attainment for federal air quality standards. While not eliminating risks, a reduction of one microgram per cubic meter would at least bring this area into attainment with the EPA standard, the nurses and healthy lung advocates argue.

Three of the six power plants named in the study - C.P. Crane, Brandon Shores, and H.A. Wagner - are owned by Constellation Energy, based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Constellation spokesman Rob Gould said the results of the study seem similar to an Environmental Protection Agency finding several years ago that prompted the establishment of a new national Ambient Air Quality standard for very fine particulate.

In response, the EPA finalized "two of the most sweeping air pollution reduction rules ever promulgated, the Clean Air Diesel Rule and Clean Air Interstate Rule. The first rule will take the sulfur out of diesel fuel and the Clean Air Interstate Rule will reduce sulfur by 73 percent and nitrogen oxides 61 percent from power plants nationwide, including Maryland," Gould explained.

"These rules will be implemented in 2007 and 2010 respectively and will allow Maryland to meet the new standard," said Gould, "comprehensively addressing the health problems identified."

"Constellation Energy is very supportive of these new rules," Gould says. The company has announced its intention to spend $500-600 million to install additional air pollution controls on top of $250 million spent to date.

Relatively small changes in total loadings of fine particles into the air can yield substantial benefits to the public’s health, Levy concludes.

Peregoy agrees, saying, "Most of the fine particle pollution from power plants is a byproduct of the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and, to a lesser extent, the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions emitted by such plants. Sulfur dioxide emissions from the six power plants in Maryland have increased about two percent since 1999, while NOx emissions have declined 43 percent."

"There is extensive health evidence on the link between NOx and SOx emissions and a variety of adverse health impacts, including respiratory symptoms, hospitalizations for respiratory or cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality," Peregoy said.

The other three power plants named in the study - Morgantown, Dickerson and Chalk Point - are owned by Atlanta-based Mirant Corporation. Mirant spokesman Dave Thompson said he could not comment until he had seen the study.

Levy's analysis is based on peer reviewed models and studies previously published in academic literature. This includes the application of an atmospheric dispersion model called CALPUFF, which has been evaluated extensively in the published literature, including in an application in the Washington, DC area, he said. In addition, a model was used that links source emissions with concentrations across the United States, which has been applied in EPA regulatory impact analyses and has similarly been evaluated in the published literature.




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