The Dirtiest Power Plants in the U.S.
The dirtiest power plants in the nation continue to generate a disproportionate amount of toxic pollutants—including arsenic, chromium, hydrochloric acid, lead, mercury, nickel and selenium—tracked in a new analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) released Dec. 7 by EIP, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.
According to the EIP report, the dozen dirtiest power plants in the U.S. in terms of sheer pounds of emissions of four highly toxic heavy metals—arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury—are:
- Plum Point Station, Ark.
- TVA’s Paradise Plant, Ky.
- Genon’s Shawville Station, Pa.
- Basin Electric’s Laramie River Station, Wyo.
- Consumers Energy’s JH Campbell Plant, Mich.
- AES Puerto Rico LP, Puerto Rico
- Edison International’s Homer City Plant, Pa.
- Consumers Energy’s De Karn/JC Weadock Generating Plant, Mich.
- FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, Pa.
- Southern Company’s Bowen Plant, Ga.
- Basin Electric’s Antelope Valley Station, N.D.
- Luminant’s Monticello Power Plant, Texas
Based on overall rankings for the toxic pollutants reviewed in the EIP report, the five worst states identified are (starting with the bottom-ranked states):
- Pennsylvania (#1 rankings for arsenic and lead)
- Ohio (#2 rankings for mercury and selenium)
- Indiana (#4 rankings for chromium and nickel)
- Kentucky (#2 for arsenic)
- Texas (#1 rankings for mercury and selenium)
The balance of the 15 worst states for the key toxics reviewed in the report are: (6) West Virginia; (7) Georgia; (8) Alabama; (9) Michigan (including #2 ranking for chromium and #4 for hydrochloric acid); (10) Florida; (11) North Carolina; (12) North Dakota (#3 for arsenic); (13) Missouri (#4 for mercury); (14) Wyoming; and (15) South Carolina. The EIP report also notes that other states—including Arkansas, Iowa, Puerto Rico and Tennessee—are also among the worst in terms of emissions of certain toxic pollutants.
The EIP report is particularly timely since—after years of inaction, litigation, study and delay—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finally poised to adopt a power plant air toxics rule that will mainly target mercury, fine particulates (which contain heavy metals), and acid gases. The EPA is under a court-ordered deadline to finalize long delayed rules to clean up emissions of mercury and other harmful power plant air toxics. EPA has estimated that the power plant air toxics rule will avoid between 6,800 and 17,000 premature deaths each year, and will result in annual savings of $48 to $140 billion.
Ilan Levin, associate director, Environmental Integrity Project, said, “The only thing more shocking than the large amounts of toxic chemicals released into the air each year by coal- and oil-fired power plants, is the fact that these emissions have been allowed for so many years. For decades, the electric power industry has delayed cleanup and lobbied against public health rules designed to reduce pollution. But, the technology and pollution control equipment necessary to clean up toxic emissions are widely available and are working at some power plants across the country. There is no reason for Americans to continue to live with unnecessary risks to their health and to the environment.”
"For decades the coal industry has actively lobbied against public health rules to reduce pollution and has gotten away with it," said Bruce Nilles, director of Beyond Coal, Sierra Club. "We are eagerly awaiting the EPA finalizing on Dec. 16 the first national commonsense safeguards to keep toxic chemicals out of our air and water."
“This report makes clear that the health damage caused by power plants’ pollution is preventable," said Jim Pew, an attorney for Earthjustice. "The reason that people are still being sickened and killed by this pollution is that the worst polluters have refused to put on available control technology. They will continue to refuse until the public says ‘enough.’ We are counting on EPA to deliver that message next week, and we are counting on our elected representatives to back the agency up.”
Key report findings include the following:
Electric power plants comprise a relatively small number of facilities, but, their toxic emissions dwarf other industrial sectors. For example:
- Whereas literally thousands of chemical plants and other industries reported toxic emissions to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory in 2010, only a few hundred power plants reported mercury and hydrochloric acid emissions, and only 59 power plants reported selenium emissions. Yet, despite the relatively small number of facilities, electric utilities emit more arsenic, mercury, selenium and hydrochloric acid than any other industrial sector, and the utility industry emits the second highest total emissions of chromium and nickel of all industry sectors.
- The electric power industry emits almost two-thirds of the nation's industrial arsenic emissions.
- Only 59 power plants representing the entire electric utility sector reported selenium emissions in 2010. Yet, the utility industry is still the top selenium emitter of all industry sectors, releasing 250,220 pounds, or 125 tons, of selenium into the nation’s air. That’s 76.3 percent of all industrial selenium emissions.
Some states have seen major drops in reported emissions of dangerous heavy metals, while other states have made little progress to reduce these air toxics. For example:
- Over the past decade, power plant arsenic emissions have dropped significantly in Virginia (from almost 10,000 pounds reported in 2000 to 352 pounds reported in 2010) and in Tennessee (from almost 8,000 pounds in 2000 to 637 pounds in 2010). Power plant arsenic emissions have also dropped in New York, North Carolina, and other states. But, states including Georgia, Indiana, North Dakota, Texas, and Utah have remained flat or seen only modest reductions in power plant arsenic emissions over the past decade. Montana has reported a steady rise in that state’s power plant’s arsenic emissions over the past decade.
- From 2009 to 2010, power plant lead emissions actually increased in 16 states.
- Pennsylvania—by far the largest state in terms of power plant arsenic emissions—has actually increased its reported power plant arsenic emissions over the past decade, from 15,861 pounds reported in 2001, to 17,666 pounds of arsenic reported in 2010.
- Over the past decade, power plant lead emissions have declined significantly in North Carolina, New York and other states, but lead emissions have held steady in other states like Texas and West Virginia. Power plants in Arkansas reported more chromium emissions in 2010 than did plants in any other state, due almost entirely to the newly-built Plum Point Energy Station, which emitted 12,179 pounds of chromium, or 90 percent of the state’s reported total in 2010.
A small handful of the nation’s most polluting power plants account for a disproportionately large amount of toxic emissions. For example:
- The top 20 percent of all power plant chromium emitters reported almost 40 tons of the chemical released into the air in 2010, which accounts for almost 60 percent of all power plant chromium emissions nationwide.
- The top 20 percent of all power plant lead emitters reported almost 32 tons of the chemical released into the air in 2010, which accounts for 65 percent of all power plant lead emissions nationwide.
- The top 20 percent of all power plant nickel emitters reported more than 90 tons of the chemical in 2010, which accounts for 74 percent of all power plant nickel emissions nationwide.
Toxic pollution from power plants can cause serious environmental impacts and health effects, especially for children, developing fetuses and vulnerable populations. Exposure to the air toxics that are emitted from coal-fired power plants can cause cancer, damage to the liver, kidney, and the nervous and circulatory systems, and respiratory effects including asthma, decreased lung function and bronchitis.
Overall power plant toxic emissions have declined over the past decade, but the decrease is being driven by a few companies that are installing modern pollution controls while the rest of the nation’s power plants are doing very little. The EIP data show that toxic emissions can be reduced, and have been at a number of plants, but that a strong national rule is needed to protect all Americans equally, and to force the dirtiest power plants to clean up.
The new EIP report analyzes data obtained from U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), and accessible to the public by clicking here. All the rankings in the EIP report are based on 2010 annual reported emissions, the most recent data available, from electric power utilities. The number of power plants that reported emissions of each of these toxics varies considerably from one pollutant to the next. For example, 479 U.S. power plants reported lead emissions to TRI in 2010, whereas only 59 power plants reported Selenium emissions. The number of power plants reporting emissions of Arsenic (145), Chromium (234), Mercury (452), Nickel (222), and Hydrochloric acid (413), also varies considerably. This variation is partly due to the reporting threshold for TRI. Generally, the reporting requirement is only triggered if the facility produces a total of 25,000 pounds of the chemical, although for certain highly toxic, bioaccumulative, or persistent chemicals like lead and mercury, the reporting threshold is much lower.
For more information, click here.
The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›
A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.
- Trump Admin Denies Endangered Species Protections to Pacific ... ›
- Trump Admin Failed to Protect 241 Species From Extinction ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
- 8 Ways to Tell if You Are Vitamin D Deficient - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common ›
Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
- Could the Climate Crisis Spell the End for Maine Lobster? - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Reasons Why Biodiversity Matters - EcoWatch ›
- World Leaders, Media Ignore Biodiversity Report Detailing Mass ... ›
- The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect - EcoWatch ›