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Power Plants Forced to Clean Up Deadly Pollutants

Power Plants Forced to Clean Up Deadly Pollutants

Ohio Environmental Council

The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) applauds the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power plant regulations that will reduce dangerous pollution such as mercury and fine particulates linked to asthma attacks, developmental disorders and preventable deaths.

"The U.S. EPA stood up against big polluter interests and did the right thing," states David R. Celebrezze, director of air and water special projects for the OEC.

The new U.S. EPA air toxic rule means that power plants will have to reduce their mercury emissions by 90 percent in three to four years. The new rules will also require scrubbers on power plants. Scrubbers are pollution reduction technology that will reduce harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.

Ohio's archaic fleet of power plants emit so much mercury and other pollutants, that Ohio ranks in the top five states in health impacts due to mercury and other emissions.

According to a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, Ohio ranks second in the nation in state health impacts with 1,221 deaths, 835 hospital admissions and 1891 heart attacks. Additionally, Ohio ranks third in the country for state per capita mortality risk (2010 est).

"Industry will ballyhoo that this will close plants. What they don't tell you are some of these plants were probably going to close anyway," states Celebrezze.

Many Ohio metro areas rank near the top in the country in terms of city health impacts:
• #8 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor
• #10 Cincinnati-Middletown
• #13 Columbus

In terms of metro area per capita mortality risk (est. 2010):
• #3 Steubenville-Weirton
• #5 Sandusky
• #7 Youngstown-Warren-Boardman
• #8 Mansfield
• #9 Springfield

Top power plants for health impacts (annual 2010)
• #3 in the country is the W H Sammis (Jefferson) County: 163 deaths, 124 hospital admissions, 268 heart attacks.

Mercury emissions harm public health. After mercury is emitted from power plants, it settles on plants and in our waterways. While in the water it turns into methyl mercury and is consumed by fish. Some of those fish are then consumed by people.

In Ohio, it is recommended that people eat less of certain fish species—such as smallmouth bass, walleye and largemouth bass—from many bodies of water due to high levels of mercury. In some bodies of water, it is recommended that none of the species be eaten due to elevated levels of PCBs, mercury and other contaminants. The full list can be found on the Ohio EPA’s website.

People exposed to (elemental) mercury through breathing can experience harmful effects. According to the U.S. EPA "Symptoms include these: tremors; emotional changes (e.g. mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness); insomnia; neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching); headaches; disturbances in sensations; changes in nerve responses, and performance deficits on tests of cognitive function. At higher exposures, there may be kidney effects, respiratory failure and death."

Further research has demonstrated that exposing infants and children to mercury can impair their neurological development. Symptoms of methylmercury poisoning can include: peripheral vision reduction; disturbances in sensations ("pins and needles" feelings, usually in the hands, feet and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing and walking, and muscle weakness, according to the U.S. EPA.

Mercury emissions from Ohio power plants (sampling-2010):

• W.H. Sammis: 424lbs.
• Kyger Creek : 420 lbs.
• Cardinal Plant: 407 lb.
• Conesville plant: 318 lb.
• Muskingum Plant: 321 lb.
• Gavin plant: 829 lb.
• Eastlake plant: 301 lb.
• Avon Lake plant: 246lbs

Overall, Ohio power plants emitted 4,208 pounds of mercury in 2010.

The new U.S. EPA rule will prevent 130,000 child asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths yearly in the U.S. Additional health care savings will be $37 billion to $90 billion each year by 2016.

"Once these rules are fully implemented, Santa Claus will have fewer asthma attacks as he moves through Ohio," states Celebrezze.

For more information, click here. To learn more about the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, click here.

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The mission of the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is to secure healthy air, land and water for all who call Ohio home. The OEC is Ohio's leading advocate for fresh air, clean water and sustainable land use. The OEC has a 40-year history of innovation, pragmatism and success. Using legislative initiatives, legal action, scientific principles and statewide partnerships, the OEC secures a healthier environment for Ohio's families and communities.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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