Toxic Air: Time to Clean Up Coal-fired Power Plants

(March 8, 2011)

Did you know that the coal-fired power plants, found across the country, emit health-threatening toxins into our air every day?  Toxins like arsenic, mercury, acid gases and lead. The American Lung Association’s new report Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants, reveals the hazardous air pollution emitted from power plants and why now is the time to clean them up and protect ou health.

The report highlights the long list of uncontrolled pollutants from these plants including dangerous pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, dioxins, formaldehyde, acid gases and PAHs, just to name a few. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required on March 16 to issue a proposal to finally clean up these hazardous air pollutants. This comes more than twenty years after Congress added requirements to the Clean Air Act—with strong bipartisan support—that these toxic emissions must be stopped.

Hazards revealed

The Lung Association’s report reveals the real public health threat from coal-fired power plants.

  • Coal-fired power plants that sell electricity to the grid produce more hazardous air pollution in the U.S. than any other industrial pollution  sources.
  • More than 400 coal-fired power plants located in 46 states across the country release more that 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere each year.
  • Particle pollution from power plants is estimated to kill approximately 13,000 people a year.

“Power plant pollution kills people,” said Charles D. Connor, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “It threatens the brains and nervous system of children. It can cause cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

“It’s time that we end the ‘toxic loophole’ that has allowed coal-burning power plants to operate without any federal limits on emissions of mercury, arsenic, dioxin, acid gases such as hydrogen chloride and other dangerous pollutants,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

“People living closest to these plants, especially children, seniors, pregnant women and those with chronic disease face the greatest risk, but it doesn’t stop there. Pollution from coal-fired power plants takes flight and travels far into other states—threatening public health.”

Time for EPA to act

The Clean Air Act requires that hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants be controlled. Because EPA is overdue in delivering its proposal for cleaning up these plants, the agency is under a court order to propose these regulations by March 16. Without the new rules, no national standards exist to limit these pollutants from these plants.

The Lung Association report identifies modern pollution control technologies that that are currently in use in some plants, which are readily available for installation at other plants. The law sets the cleanup requirements based on actual performance facilities, but each power plant will select the specific pollution control strategies to reduce their emissions.

“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.”

Take action

Tell President Obama: Cut Toxic Air Pollution From Coal-Fired Power Plant

Learn more

For more information or to download a copy of the report, please visit