Quantcast

How Big Coal Makes Us Sick

Insights + Opinion

UPDATE: On Oct. 6, the Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council approved new strong smog standards for coal plants. "By requiring that all of Maryland's poorly-controlled coal-fired power plants retrofit to include the best pollution control technology, repower or retire, these proposed new safeguards are poised to finally help all Marylanders breathe a little easier," said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club. "There are still steps to go to finalize these critical safeguards, and we believe they should be implemented much sooner than 2020, but this is a great leap forward."

More than 85 percent of Maryland's residents live in areas where the air is unsafe to breathe. That's a huge number! Maryland lags far behind other Eastern states in its use of state-of-the-art pollution controls for smog-forming pollutants from power plants, trailing even coal-heavy states like Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Believe it or not, the state is home to some of the worst air quality on the East Coast. The good news is that the state has proposed new protections for this deadly pollution, but we need help from people across the state to get these safeguards over the finish line.

Doctors have likened breathing smog to getting sunburn on your lungs—and it's a potent asthma trigger. That's why activists are urging the Maryland Department of the Environment to enact the strongest smog standards possible.

Shan Gordon, director of Cool Green Schools, is part of the fight for cleaner air in the Chesapeake Bay State, noting that it was the stats about Baltimore city kids and the state's coal plants that drove him to action.

"Baltimore children have asthma rates near twice the state average," said Gordon. "By the time our kids are in high school, 25 percent have been diagnosed with asthma sometime in their lives. Asthma is the leading cause of absences from school for health reasons."

Gordon has documented Baltimore City residents struggling with asthma—and their experiences are powerful. Here's one short interview with local Baltimore resident Doris Toles, who lives with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Gordon has also researched the history of power plant air pollution standards in Maryland and discovered that many of the state's coal plants are not always using their existing pollution controls.

"How can companies not use their existing pollution controls when many people in our city struggle for their next breath or stay indoors to avoid unhealthy air?" he asked. "For people with asthma or respiratory issues this can become a life or death struggle for their next breath and create staggering bills during emergency room visits."

Even more concerning, fewer than half the state's coal burners use the most effective technology. Poorly controlled coal plants can emit smog-causing pollution at levels 10 times higher than the best-controlled plants.

Thankfully, the Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed new controls on coal plants that will lead to cleaner air in the state, but some coal plant owners continue to oppose any requirement to modernize their outdated emission controls.

That's why Marylanders are standing up to support the MDE's plan by speaking out at rallies and public hearings.

The next important meeting on these standards is Oct. 6, and Beyond Coal activists will be out in force to call on MDE to enact the strongest air quality standards possible for state coal plants. If you’d like to join us or learn more, click here.

"By insisting on daily emission limits and further clean up by all plants, these new standards will help keep emissions from spiking during high demand days when the air quality is already poor," said Gordon.

Meanwhile, to help people nationwide, the Sierra Club's Mobile Air Alerts are available to everyone. Sign up and you’ll receive a text message when an air quality alert is issued in your area. You will know instantly when outdoor air is polluted with harmful levels of smog, and you can plan your outdoor activity accordingly.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Climate Reckoning: My Family’s Coal Story

50 Dirtiest U.S. Power Plants Huge Contributor to Carbon Emissions

China’s ‘War on Pollution’ Helps Kick Coal Habit

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the North American Building Trades Unions Conference at the Washington Hilton April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read More Show Less
Foto-Rabe / Pixabay

When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.

Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A crate carrying one of the 33 lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.

Read More Show Less
A tornado Monday in Union City, Oklahoma. TicToc by Bloomberg / YouTube screenshot

Extreme weather spawned 18 tornadoes across five states Monday, USA Today reported. Tornadoes were reported in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arizona, but were not as dangerous as forecasters had initially feared, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less
A woman walks in front of her water-logged home in Sriwulan village, Sayung sub-district of Demak regency, Central Java, Indonesia on Feb. 2, 2018. Siswono Toyudho / Anadolu Agency /Getty Images

A new study has more than doubled the worst-case-scenario projection for sea level rise by the end of the century, BBC News reported Monday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.

Read More Show Less
Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less