Philadelphia EPA Public Hearing Testimony
Tsou, MD MPH, PSR Philadelphia Board President; Kate Etherington, PSR
Philadelphia Executive Director; and Kristen Welker-Hood, ScD MSN, former PSR
Environment and Health Director, testified at an EPA public hearing on proposed
mercury and air toxics standards in Philadelphia on May 24, 2011.
Walter Tsou, MD, MPH
President, Philadelphia Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility
My name is Dr. Walter Tsou. I am the past president of the
American Public Health Association and the current president of the Philadelphia
chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Today, I speak on behalf of
both organizations in favor of the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
Known sources like fossil fuel fired steam power plants have
fought regulations for the past twenty years, claiming that compliance is too
expensive and unnecessary. However, air pollution remains a serious health
hazard and these long overdue rules need to be implemented now. Currently, our
air remains a waste dump caused by the spewing of known toxins such as
carcinogenic volatile organic compounds, fine particular matter that clogs up
airways and triggers asthma and heart attacks and heavy metals, which settle
into our soil and can end up contaminating our food supply. The American Lung Association
estimates the more than 400 coal fired power plants release over 386,000 tons
of air pollution each year into the atmosphere. To give you a picture of what
this looks like, consider that the air pollution spewed out by coal fired power
plants exceeds the weight of the Empire State Building by 21,000 tons each year
We cannot allow America’s bone fide search for energy to
override the public’s concern about our health, especially when we have known
solutions available and which some business will not invest in without a swift
kick in the pants by the EPA. The proposed toxics rule mandates the reduction
of pollution by the half of the nation’s power plants have already installed
such pollutions devices, but without a clear national standard, other plants
simply feel free to pollute our air and stream.
Air pollution, like epidemics, is not contained by political
boundaries. Source air pollution in neighboring states can and will travel
across borders, which is why the EPA uniquely is empowered to create and
enforce these regulations. That is why you must enforce these standards. By 2016, the EPA estimates that these
proposed standards would result in saving an estimated 6800-17,000 premature
deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 12,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 850,000
missed days of work.
The EPA estimated the health costs associated with this
morbidity at over $100 billon. The cost of compliance with these regulations is
$ 10.9 billion. From a societal point of view, the ecnomic argument overwhelmingly
favors the passage of these regulations. Installation of these pollution control
devices are built here in America and employ American workers to install them.
To summarize, we have
waited twenty years to propose these regulations. Meanwhile we have tolerated
the equivalent of more than an Empire State Building weight worth of pollution
of heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulate matter which
has contaminated our air passages, spoiled our soil, and put methylmercury into
our fish. Hundreds of thousands of needless days have been lost to missed days
of work and kids have missed school because of asthma attacks. We are asking
that all power plants comply with some pretty common sense precautions that
come down to this. If you are going to burn coal or fossil fuels, use the best
technology to prevent polluting the air. At a time when the American workforce
needs to be fully productive and when our kids need to be in school if we are
to compete in a global economy, we applaud these new proposed EPA rules that
will help reduce mercury and other air toxins from polluting our air and
keeping the public healthy.
Executive Director, Philadelphia
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Good afternoon, my name is Kate Etherington and I am the
Executive Director of Philadelphia Physicicans for Social Responsibility. I represent hundreds of Greater Philadelphia
area physicians and public health professionals who are deeply concerned about
the negative health impacts on citizens from fossil fuel fired power plants.
Outside of my professional life, I am also an expectant
mom. I am extremely concerned about the
air I breathe not only for myself, but especially for my developing baby, whose
vital organs and brain function is under development and highly susceptible to
environmental toxins like mercury.
Air toxics include some of the most hazardous air pollutants
known to us. In addition to mercury and arsenic, power plants emit lead, other
heavy metals, dioxin and acid gases that threaten public health and child
development. Power plants comprise the largest source of air toxics; cement and
brick plants, pulp and paper mills and other industrial boilers are also major
contributors of hazardous air pollution.
Even in small amounts these extremely harmful air pollutants are linked
to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth
defects, asthma attacks and even premature death.
Being pregnant, I’m especially concerned about toxics like
mercury. Even at very low levels mercury
exposure during pregnancy can cause impaired brain functions, language
deficits, and lower IQs for the developing child. Pennsylvania
emits approximately 15,550 lbs of mercury every year, making it the 2nd most
mercury polluted state in the nation.
These mercury emissions end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans, and
eventually into the fish we eat. In Pennsylvania there are 6
different river basins with fish advisories.
This means that as a pregnant woman I must forgo an otherwise healthy
meal for the safety of myself and my child.
By exposing the health and environmental costs of pollution,
EPA’s new standards will reduce our reliance on old, polluting resources and
drive investment in new, innovative clean-energy facilities and technologies.
An important byproduct of a healthier, cleaner environment will be the
modernization of America’s
aging power generation infrastructure.
We have a right to breathe easier and live healthier, which is why I
support the EPA’s proposed mercury and air toxics standards and encourage the
EPA to move forward with these rules without delay. We can’t afford to wait.
Welker-Hood, ScD MSN
Environment and Health Programs
for Social Responsibility
Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants from Coal and Oil-fired
Electric Utility Steam Generating Units and Standards of Performance for
Fossil-Fuel-Fired Electric Utility, Industrial-Commercial-Institutional, and
Small Industrial-Commercial-Institutional Steam Generating Units.
afternoon, my name is Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood and I am the Director of the
Environmental Health Program at Physicians for Social Responsibility National
Office. As a nurse and environmental
health scientist I am heartened and grateful to witness the release of a such a
health protective standard that will greatly diminish air emissions of
hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil-fired power plants.
Raised in the
Philadelphia area, I worked for years in this city as community health nurse. The harmful effects of soot and air toxics had
devastating effects on the fragile health of my patients with heart disease,
asthma and other respiratory ailments, and cancer. On days in which the outdoor air quality was
poor my patients with lung disease were chained to their 20-foot oxygen tubing
for life support. They aimed to just get
through the day. My patients with asthma
had more frequent attacks, needed their rescue inhalers repeatedly and were frequently
rushed to the hospital when I was unable to stabilize them at home. Those
suffering from heart disease were confined to reduce activity in fear that if
they do too much the crushing pain in their chest would return and perhaps they
might not survive another heart attack. As a cancer nurse I sought to ease the pain
and suffering my patients as they and their families struggled to come to terms
with this debilitating illness all the while never knowing why they had become
This is what
air pollution does to people. This is
what coal power plant pollution does to people.
from coal and oil-fired power plants contain 84 of the 187 hazardous air
pollutants identified by the EPA to pose a threat to human health and the
environment. These pollutants include
carcinogens like arsenic, hexavalent chromium, benzene, and dioxin, neurotoxins
like mercury and lead, and non-mercury metals and acid gases that help form
fine particulates that increases asthma attacks, leads to premature deaths from
cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer.
Power plants release 386,000 tons of air toxics every year, accounting for 40% of
all the hazardous air pollutants spewed from point sources that we forced to breath.
A recent EPA National-Scale Air Toxic Assessment determined that in many regions
in the country breathing air toxics from outdoor sources over a lifetime of
exposure contributes nearly 30 percent to the overall average cancer risk. This increased cancer risk is
unacceptable. Controlling hazardous air
pollutants from coal-fired power plants will make significant strides to
lowering lifetime cancer risks.
Pollutants released from coal-fired power plants influences environmental quality on a local regional and
global scale. Communities most heavily
affected by certain air toxics such as acid gases and mercury are those nearest
to the power plant. However, acid gases
form sulfur dioxide and fine particulates in the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide reacts with other atmospheric
gases to produce fine particulates. Metals, dioxins and pollutants adhere to
fine particles and can travel great distances from the coal plant impacting the
health of people hundreds even thousands of miles away. Coal-fired power plants are the predominate
source of acid gases like hydrochloric acid accounting for 76% of this air
toxic released in the atmosphere.
Air Pollutant Standard for Coal and Oil Fired Power Plants will cut mercury
emissions by 91 percent, emissions of acid gases by 91 percent, and sulfur
dioxide emissions by 53 percent, and it would eliminate 100,000 tons of
particulate pollution every year. EPA estimates that the proposed mercury and
air toxics standards will avoid up to 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart
attacks, 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits and up to 120,000 asthma attacks
every year nationwide. While not
estimated the reductions of carcinogens release into the air for these power
plants will profoundly reduce new air-toxics related cancer cases.
In closing, Physicians for
Social Responsibility wishes to show its deep appreciation and support for the
EPA for proposing this long-overdue Clean Air Act standard that will safeguard
the health of our nation’s communities now exposed to unregulated toxic air
pollution from power plants. We encourage the EPA to hold firm to its ground and
move forward with the strongest air toxics controls possible to defend public
health and protect people across the life-span from toxic mercury, carcinogens
like arsenic, and dangerous particulates.
Last Updated August 6, 2013