Hoosiers Choking on Power Plant Dust

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Indiana relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for electricity. Approximately 96% of our electric energy comes from coal plants. Our reliance on coal-fired power has grim consequences for the public health. Documented health impacts include asthma, heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, stroke, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The following is a synopsis of “Dirty Air, Dirty Power”, Written by Conrad G. Schneider. Maria Padian, Ed. Clear the Air: June 2004.

A number of separate and independent studies have linked power plant emissions with a host of serious health problems in the U.S. that can result in serious and costly illnesses or premature death. These include asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Emissions originating from coal-fired power plants have been found to be the most serious. This has had grim consequences in Indiana, where we rely on coal for 96% of our electricity.

Nationally, it is estimated that the following are linked to power plant emissions:

  • 23,600 deaths each year
  • 21,850 hospital admissions each year
  • 26,000 emergency room visits for asthma
  • 38,200 heart attacks
  • 16,200 chronic bronchitis
  • 554,000 asthma attacks
  • 3,186,000 lost work days

Power Plant Emissions 101:

  1. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is formed in gases when coal is burned. It reacts in the air to form sulfuric acid, sulfates, and acidic particles. Sulfate particles, predominantly formed from coal-fired power plants’ sulfur dioxide emissions, are more strongly associated with human mortality than other components of particulate matter.
  2. Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) are formed when coal is burned. It can convert in the atmosphere to nitrates and form fine acidic particles. It reacts in the sunlight to form ozone smog.
  3. Mercury is released when coal is burned. It is linked to developmental effects in babies of mothers who ate contaminated fish while pregnant.
  4. Carbon Dioxide is formed when coal is burned. Indirect health effects may be associated with climate change.

Fine particles are a mixture of harmful pollutants that originate from combustion sources such as power plants, diesel trucks, buses, and cars. They can also be formed in the atmosphere from power plant sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide emissions. Fine particles bypass the natural defense mechanisms of the lung, becoming deeply lodged in the lung where they can cause respiratory damage and cardiac effects, including increased risk of heart attack. They have also been linked with fatal heart attack, lung cancer, stroke, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Key findings from this report show that:

  • Fine particle pollution from U.S. Power Plants cuts short the lives of nearly 24,000 people each year.
  • The average number of life years lost by individuals dying prematurely from exposure to particulate matter is 14 years.
  • Hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and lost work days are attributed to exposure to fine particles from power plants, including 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks each year nationally.
  • The total national health costs of power plant pollution, including emergency room and hospital treatment, as well as lost work days, is estimated to be $167.3 billion each year.
  • The EPA estimates that attainment of more protective health standards for fine particles alone could save 15,000 lives per year.

About 90% of deaths due to particle pollution could be avoided by capping power plant sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution at levels consistent with the installation of today’s best available emissions controls.

Health Effects of Coal-burning Power Plants

Evidence suggests that emissions originating from coal-fired plants are the most dangerous.

  • Sulfate particles are more strongly linked to human mortality than any other component of particulate matter. 68% of sulfate-forming sulfur-dioxide comes from power plants, while 90% of sulfur dioxide emitted by all power plants comes from coal-burning power plants.
  • States with large populations in proximity to many coal-fired power plants are estimated to have the largest health impact resulting from power plant emissions.
  • Smaller metropolitan areas around coal country experience the largest per-capita impacts.

Dirty Power in Indiana

  • Indiana depends on coal for 96% (check) our electricity.
  • Indiana's power plants place it among the nation's top-five polluting states in the country.
  • Indiana has the second highest emissions of nitrogen oxides, the third highest emissions of sulfur dioxide (which is most strongly linked to human mortality), and the fourth highest emissions of both carbon dioxide and mercury.
  • Indiana is ranked fifth in the nation for mortality and per-capita deaths related to power plant emissions, while Indianapolis is the 15th ranked metro area in the nation for deaths related to power plant emissions.
  • Terre Haute is ranked 12th nationally for per-capita deaths related to power plant emissions.

Health Impacts in Indiana

Each of the following is estimated to be linked to power plant pollution in Indiana:

  • 887 deaths per year
  • 1,491 heart attacks per year
  • 114 lung cancer deaths per year
  • 21,532 asthma attacks per year
  • 845 hospital admissions per year
  • 618 cases of chronic bronchitis per year
  • 1,274 asthma ER visits per year

It is estimated that a significant portion of premature deaths and health problems could be avoided by capping power plant emissions at levels consistent with the installation of today’s best available emissions controls. Additionally, this would save the public billions of dollars in health-related expenses each year.

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