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PSR doctors raise warnings over "Toxic 20" States with Most Toxic Air Pollution from Power Plants

July 20, 2011

PSR joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council in releasing a study that identifies the states with the most toxic air pollution from oil- and coal-fired power plants.

The “Toxic 20” worst states are, in order:  Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

“Coal pollution is killing Americans.  It is America’s biggest source of toxic air pollution,” stated Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, cofounder of PSR’s Tampa Bay (FL) chapter, who represented PSR in the press conference that announced the report’s findings.

PSR doctors in five other “dirty” states also participated in the report roll-out:  Dr. Walter Tsou of Philadelphia PSR; Dr. Gwen Dubois of Baltimore-Chesapeake PSR; Dr. Ken Rosenman in Michigan; Dr. Maureen McCue of Iowa PSR; and Dr. Ian Alward of PSR-Austin.

Power plants are the single largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

From asthma to premature death

Dr. Ringenberg observed that air toxics from coal-fired power plants include neurotoxins like mercury and lead; carcinogens like arsenic, hexavalent chromium and dioxin; and other metals and gases that combine to form fine particulates.

These substances cause or contribute to health effects ranging from asthma attacks to premature death from cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer.

Just one air toxic, mercury, damages the developing brains of fetuses, infants and small children, robbing them of healthy neurological development and native intelligence.

EPA proposes safeguards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently developing tougher safeguards to protect Americans from this toxic pollution.  The Agency is taking public comments on its proposed “Mercury and Air Toxics” standard until Aug. 4, 2011.  Sign on to PSR’s comments here.

EPA estimates that the reductions of toxic pollution their standard would require would save as many as 17,000 lives every year by 2015 and prevent up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms. They would also avoid more than 12,000 emergency room and hospital visits and prevent 850,000 lost work days every year. 

Industry vs. public health?

Despite these huge anticipated savings in lives and health, some polluters and members of Congress are seeking to block EPA’s efforts to update public health protections. Last week, two House committees voted for amendments to block for at least a year the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics safeguards. These amendments could move to the House floor as early as late July.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI), has vowed to block EPA’s clean air safeguards. One of the nation’s biggest polluters, American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, has drafted legislation to block the EPA and has argued against EPA’s current efforts.

These votes clearly favor the interests over the health of the American public.  As Dr. Ringenberg noted, “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,” she added.

The study, entitled “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,” analyzed publicly available data in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).  Power plants are the biggest industrial toxic air polluters in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

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