Lung Association Urges EPA to End the 20-year Free Pass for the Nation’s Biggest Polluters

Threats from these pollutants include cancer, premature death, birth defects and are widespread across the nation

(May 24, 2011)

American Lung Association medical experts and volunteers are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at its three public hearings this week to set stronger limits on toxic pollutants from the nation’s oil and coal-fired power plants. At the hearings Tuesday in Philadelphia and Chicago and Thursday in Atlanta, the nation’s leading lung health organization will voice its continued support of EPA’s proposal to clean up the more than 386,000 tons of toxic pollutants pumped into the air every year, produced by burning coal in power plants that serve the nation’s electric grid.

More than two decades of combined industry and bureaucratic delay have allowed these plants to continue to produce toxic emissions, despite provisions in the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act targeting such pollutants for clean up. 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.

“Coal-fired power plants are the largest industrial source of hazardous air pollution in the country,” said James Gooden, Chairman of the Board of the American Lung Association, who will testify at the Atlanta hearing.  “After a 20-year delay, we need swift action. It is time for these plants to be cleaned up."

Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 and charged EPA with the task of reducing the public health burden caused by coal-fired power plant emissions. EPA was directed to set and enforce protective standards based on the performance of the best-controlled plants, but industry push back has contributed to a more than twenty year cleanup delay.

According to EPA data, by 2016, reduced emissions from power plants will save 17,000 lives and will prevent 120,000 asthma attacks each year.

“It’s astonishing that some in Washington want to give the electric utility industry even more time to wreak havoc on our nation’s air,” said Al Rizzo, MD, American Lung Association incoming Chair of the Board and a pulmonary physician from Delaware. “Numerous studies confirm power plant emissions threaten the most vulnerable people, including my patients who have asthma and other lung diseases. Cleaning up these pollutants is a matter of life and death for those who are most at risk.” Dr. Rizzo will testify at the Philadelphia hearing.

Others facing greatest risk include: children; pregnant women; older adults; people with cardiovascular disease; diabetes; those living below the poverty line; and healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors.

EPA’s proposed standards are based directly on emission levels already achieved by electricity producers across the nation. The limits would provide equal protection to people across the nation, including protection from toxic emissions crossing state lines.

“Power companies that have delayed stepping into the 21st century have a significant responsibility to those who are impacted by their seemingly endless stream of life threatening toxins,” said William Kempiners, Chair of the American Lung Association’s Advocacy Committee. “We call on them to follow other industry leaders by installing modern pollution controls now.” Mr. Kempiners will testify at the Chicago hearing.

EPA Hearing Schedule
May 24, 2011—Chicago from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at: Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro, 799 West Madison Street

May 24, 2011—Philadelphia from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at: Westin Philadelphia, 99 South 17th Street at Liberty Place
May 26, 2011— Atlanta from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at: Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, 61 Forsyth Street SW

Related Lung Association Report
Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning up Coal-Fired Power Plants—Click here.

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About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.  For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: www.Lung.org.