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20 Most Toxic States Exposed—Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania Top the List
Residents of Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania are exposed to more toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants than in any other state, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
At the same time, the report found a 19 percent decrease in all air toxics emitted from power plants in 2010, the most recent data available, compared to 2009 levels. The welcomed drop, which also includes a 4 percent decrease in mercury emissions, results from two key factors.
One is the increasing use by power companies of natural gas, which has become cheaper and is cleaner burning than coal; the other is the installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls by many plants—in anticipation of new health protections issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Toxic pollution is already being reduced as a result of EPA’s health-protecting standards,” said John Walke, NRDC’s clean air director. “Thanks to the agency’s latest safeguards, millions of children and their families in the states hardest hit by toxic air pollution from power plants will be able to breathe easier.”
“But these protections are threatened,” Walke said, “because polluters are intent on persuading future Congresses or presidential administrations to repeal them.”
Finalized in 2011, the U.S. EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standards will cut mercury air pollution by 79 percent from 2010 levels, beginning in 2015.
In the second edition of Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States, NRDC also found that coal and oil-fired power plants still contribute nearly half (44 percent) of all the toxic air pollution reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The report also ranks the states by the amount of their toxic air pollution levels.
In an earlier assault on the EPA’s new standards, the House passed a bill to gut them last year; but a similar measure in June failed in the Senate.
Compared to 2010 levels, the standard will reduce mercury pollution from 34 tons to 7 tons, a 79 percent reduction, by 2015. Sulfur dioxide pollution will be reduced from 5,140,000 tons in 2010 to 1,900,000 tons in 2015, a 63 percent reduction. Another dangerous acid gas, hydrochloric acid, will be reduced from 106,000 tons in 2010 to 5,500 tons in 2015, a 95 percent reduction.
With those and other pollution reductions resulting from the standard, as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital visits, 4,700 heart attacks and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis will be avoided in 2016. The public health improvements are also estimated to save $37 billion to $90 billion in health costs, and prevent up to 540,000 missed work or “sick” days each year.
Franz Matzner, NRDC associate director of Government Affairs, said: “For too long, Americans have had no choice but to breathe toxic air pollution. Thanks to the EPA, the air is getting cleaner. But we need lawmakers who will help clean up the air we all breathe—not lawmakers who do the bidding of Big Polluters trying to repeal safeguards that protect children’s health. This and future Congresses should let the EPA do its job so ALL Americans can breathe easier.”
Despite the overall reductions in total emissions, 18 of the Toxic 20 from 2009 remain in the 2010 list released today, although several states have made significant improvements highlighted in the report.
The states on the Toxic 20 list (from worst to best) are:
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Of the Toxic 20 list, both senators from eight states supported a resolution by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), to stop the mercury and air toxics safeguard: Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. Meanwhile, both senators from three states: Michigan, Maryland and Delaware voted against the measure. The remaining nine states had mixed votes among their senators.
ABOUT THE DATA
The U.S. EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, known as the TRI, is a national database of toxic emissions self-reported by industrial sources. Power plants report emissions of mercury, hydrochloric acid and other hazardous metals.
NRDC released the first Toxic 20 report in July 2011. The analysis used publicly available data in the TRI to rank states by air pollution levels from 2009. Using the same methodology, today’s analysis compared TRI emissions reported for 2010 from the electric utilities sector to those from other sectors and ranked sources by total emissions by sector. The analysis identifies top emitting power plants based on toxic emissions reported to TRI.
For the full methodology, see the analysis Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States.
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In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals.
Important Findings for Other Teams<p>The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19.</p><p>Fellow researchers from the <a href="http://assistenzhunde-zentrum.de/index.php/news/covid-19-hunde" target="_blank">German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ)</a> have also benefited from the Finnish results.</p><p>"No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-house-pets-test-positive-for-coronavirus/a-53460111" target="_blank">dangerous or not for humans and dogs</a>. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ.</p>
Where Does the Characteristic Smell Come From?<p>It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately.</p><p>Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.</p><p>"According to one study, dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability, for example. And lung cancer with a 97% probability," she says.</p><p>But dogs can also identify skin cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer very reliably, according to Barrett. "The hit rate, which was not so good in the early days of training, has risen enormously in recent years," she says.</p>
Hit Rate Decisive<p>Besides cancer, the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dog-makes-1-million-drug-bust/a-53433307" target="_blank">dogs</a> can also detect Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers smell different even years before they have the disease. "That's how we came up with the idea of training dogs as an early warning system for Parkinson's," Barrett says.</p><p>Dogs are also trained to detect malaria, but the hit rate is not yet satisfactory, she says. So far, the dogs recognize seven out of 10 infected persons, which is not enough.</p><p>A high hit rate is, of course, also absolutely necessary when training for the aggressive SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, according to Barret. "We hope that the hit rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher in the fully trained dogs; after all, it would be very dangerous if COVID-19 were not detected," she says</p>
Trained Tracking Dogs<p>Dogs' ability to smell is about a million times better than that of humans. Humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, compared with 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.</p><p>Dogs also inhale up to 300 times per minute in short breaths, meaning that their olfactory cells are constantly supplied with new odor particles. In addition, dogs' noses differentiate between right and left. This spatial sense of smell allows the animals to follow a trail more easily.</p><p>During the training sessions, the dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers or retrievers in general, but also cocker spaniels or sheepdog breeds — are each trained for one scent. That can be the smell of a drug or an explosive, or, as here, the olfactory signature of a specific disease.This means that one dog cannot recognize several types of cancer.</p><p>The animals are trained with containers holding samples of breath or sweat, for example. As soon as they have identified the smell they are looking for, the dogs hear a click and get a treat. They are reliably trained for the one smell on this reward principle.</p>
Great Potential, Great Skepticism<p>Drug and explosive detection dogs have been used for some time. But trained medical scent detection dogs are also now working in hospitals. For example, they sniff the bodies of patients with suspected skin cancer to try and detect the disease — only with the patients' consent, of course. So these skilled snufflers are helping doctors in diagnosing diseases and detecting them early on.</p><p>However, so far there are only very few medical detection dogs. The dog owners almost always work voluntarily and the trained sniffer dogs live in normal households. There is great skepticism, especially among traditional doctors and health insurance companies, even though the first indications given by the dog have to be followed by further medical tests anyway and a lot of time and costs could be saved by early cancer detection.</p>
Possible Coronavirus Applications<p>If the findings from Finland are confirmed, the sniffer dogs with their extremely sensitive sense of smell could prove to be a great help in the fight against the new coronavirus.</p><p>Luca Barrett from TARSQ can easily picture coronavirus sniffer dogs being used in situations where there is a high risk of infection. For example, people attending football matches and other major events could be checked before they are admitted.</p><p>The dogs could also be employed at airports to scan people entering a country. "When the dogs go down the queue, they can detect if someone is healthy and can enter the country. But if a person smells of COVID-19, the handler could send that person to a coronavirus testing center instead," Barrett says. That is because a second test is still needed to confirm the dog's initial sniff detection.</p><p><span></span>Barrett says dogs could also be used to search for the virus on surfaces. For example, before passengers board an aircraft, a four-legged friend could first check whether the machine is free from SARS-CoV-2. Similar measures are planned for doctors' surgeries, aged care homes or nursing homes that have had to be evacuated because of COVID-19 cases. Before these are used again, a sniffer dog could check whether the environment is "clean."</p>
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