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A fracking well looms over a residential area of Liberty, Colorado on Aug. 19. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

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Garry Knight / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

A team of researchers on Tuesday released a "blistering" report on the serious public health threats—from headaches to asthma to cancer—posed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process of injecting a mix of water and chemicals into rocks to release oil and natural gas.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Smoggy downtown Houston. Kyle Jones / Flickr

By Rachel Leven

Engineer Jim Southerland was hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1971 to join the nascent war on air pollution. He came to relish the task, investigating orange clouds from an ammunition plant in Tennessee and taking air samples from strip mines in Wyoming. Among his proudest accomplishments: helping the agency develop a set of numbers called emission factors—values that enable regulators to estimate atmospheric discharges from power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other industrial operations.

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Earthjustice

Earthjustice released a white paper and interactive map on Feb. 23 showing the locations and reported baseline emissions from 1,753 industrial power plants across the U.S. Industrial power plants are in‐house power plants that burn conventional fuels like coal, biomass and oil. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently under court order to step in and protect public health from these sources of toxic air pollution.

“Many people don’t know that major industrial operations often have their own personal power plants, which have not been subject to EPA clean air standards,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Jim Pew. “People who live near industrial power plants pay a disproportionate cost in increased cancer risk, heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory illness. Americans have the right to know where these plants are located and the pollutants they emit. Now they can get this information easily online.”

Though they are usually smaller than power plants that sell electricity to the public, industrial power plants released millions of pounds of toxic air pollutants like mercury, lead, benzene and acid gases in 2010 alone. Earthjustice has worked for more than a decade to reduce health threats from pollution caused by industrial power plants—also known as industrial boilers.

In February 2011, under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA issued Clean Air Act emission standards for industrial power plants. In December 2011, EPA issue a revised proposal and plans to finalize an updated standard by mid-2012. These standards (often referred to as the "Boiler MACT" rule) will bring IPPs into Clean Air Act compliance like any other power plant, saving thousands of lives each year and preventing widespread sickness, suffering and premature death, especially in communities that need the help most.

The white paper, The Toxic Air Burden from Industrial Power Plants, includes:

  • Health impacts of selected pollutants
  • Top 20 states for boiler emissions of mercury, lead, chromium, hydrochloric acid, PM2.5 (soot)
  • Top 20 facilities for these pollutants
  • Ranking of states with the most industrial boilers
  • An explanation of the research methods

The interactive map shows where these facilities are located from coast-to-coast.

Read the white paper and use the interactive map by clicking here.

For more information, click here.

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