Ending Free Pass for Biggest Polluters

(June 3, 2011)

Why Clean Up Power Plant Pollution?
EPA estimates that by 2016, cleaning up toxic pollutants from oil and coal-fired power plants will have saved lives and benefited the health of millions of adults and children each year:

•  Save 17,000 lives
•  Prevent 11,000 heart attacks
•  Prevent 120,000 childhood asthma attacks
•  Avoid 12,000 hospital admissions and emergency room visits
•  Result in 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children

For more than 20 years, some of the owners of our nation’s biggest polluters – oil and coal-fired electric power plants – have delayed cleaning up the toxic pollution they spew into our air. Threats from these pollutants are widespread across the nation, and include cancer, premature death and birth defects. The effort to end this “free pass” for our nation’s biggest polluters has reached a critical point, and the American Lung Association is leading the fight.

In late May, American Lung Association medical experts, volunteers and staff testified at a series of public hearings to voice their continued support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to clean up the more than 386,000 tons of toxic pollutants pumped into the air every year.

In 1990, Congress strengthened the Clean Air Act to require the cleanup of toxic pollutants. But more than two decades of industry and bureaucratic delays have allowed the electric industry to skirt cleanup requirements that other industries have to meet.

“The American public has waited long enough—more than two decades. We are counting on EPA to protect all Americans from the health risks imposed by these dangerous pollutants once and for all,” said James Gooden, Chairman of the Board of the American Lung Association, at the Atlanta hearing.

Included in these smokestack emissions are a mixture of 84 different hazardous chemicals and heavy metals such as formaldehyde, benzene, and mercury, known to cause cancer, birth defects, and heart disease among other serious and life threatening health ailments. These emissions endanger the health of not only the people who live near coal-fired power plants, but also those who live hundreds of miles away.

“My patients should not have to breathe recognized and probable carcinogens including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, dioxins, furans and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” said Al Rizzo, MD, Lung Association incoming Board Chair and pulmonary physician, at the hearing in Philadelphia. “In fact none of us should have to be exposed to these toxins.”

Among the many toxic compounds Dr. Rizzo described, perhaps the most alarming was mercury. “Mercury which is probably the most widely known of the toxic air pollutants, a distinction it earned in part, because of the harm it does to the brain, the nervous system, the kidneys and liver,” Rizzo explained. “But mercury’s most egregious damage is to children from before they are born causing neurological and developmental birth defects.”

“Cleaning up these toxins saves lives. According to EPA’s own analysis, cleaning up these toxic emissions will result, by 2016, in multiple annual benefits. Just to name two: cleaning up these emissions will save 17,000 lives each year and eliminate 12,200 admissions to the hospital and emergency room visits each year,” Gooden testified.

You can learn more about the case for cleaning up power plant emissions in an American Lung Association report issued in March.

Your voice counts:

Your voice will make a difference. You can help tell EPA that the time for delays is over and the time for action is now! The deadline for comments is July 5th.