WASHINGTON – Fine particle pollution from Maryland power plants is contributing to premature deaths, asthma attacks and other serious health problems according to a report released Wednesday by a nurse’s group.
The plant-produced pollution contributed to about 100 premature deaths and 4,000 asthma attacks annually in Maryland, according to the report produced by the Maryland Nurses Association and conducted by Jonathan Levy, assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The report focused on pollution from Maryland’s six major coal-burning power plants: Chalk Point Generating Station in Prince George’s County; Dickerson Generating Station in Montgomery County; Morgantown Generating Station in Charles County; C.P. Crane Power Plant in Baltimore County, and Brandon Shores Power Plant and the H.A. Wagner Power Plant in Anne Arundel County.
Because some of the plants are near Maryland’s borders, the harmful health effects reach far beyond the state. The report found that nationwide, the plants annually contribute to about 700 premature deaths and 30,000 asthma attacks.
“Power plant pollution is a major problem,” said Brenda Afzal, community health specialist at the Maryland Nurses Association.
“The bottom line is the air quality in Maryland still needs to be improved,” said Steve Peregoy, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of Maryland.
“We haven’t had a chance to review yet, but the results of the study seem similar to an Environmental Protection Agency finding several years ago that prompted the establishment for a new national Ambient Air Quality standard for very fine particulate,” Robert Gould, spokesman for Constellation Energy, the company that owns three of the six major power plants in Maryland wrote in an e-mailed statement.
“Constellation Energy is very supportive of these new rules and we have already announced our intention to spend an additional $500 (million to) $600 million to install additional air pollution controls on top of the $250 million we have already spent,” he wrote.
Mirant, the corporation that owns the other three Maryland plants, noted that they are spending, “hundreds of millions of dollars on new emission control technologies. These efforts will significantly reduce power plant emissions,” said spokesman Steven Arabia.
Fine particulate matter, smaller than one-tenth of a human hair, is considered especially harmful because its size enables it to reach deep into the lungs. The matter can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate heart and lung disease, according to the report.
Using models developed from hundreds of extensive peer-reviewed journal articles, Levy was able to calculate the health effects of the pollution on the population. The pollution is mainly made up of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both targets of air quality measures proposed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and the Maryland General Assembly.
Ehrlich’s “Clean Power Rule,” affects the plants discussed in the report and aims to decrease air pollution by cutting annual emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury by more than 250,000 tons.
“We agree that there are health issues involved with fine particle pollution,” said Julie Oberg, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Environment.
“While we appreciate that he started this ball rolling, we do not feel it goes far enough,” said Afzal of Ehrlich’s plan.
The General Assembly’s “Healthy Air Act,” which has 97 co-sponsors, is similar to Ehrlich’s proposal, but includes smaller coal plants in the clean up requirements. Also called the “Four Pollutants” bill, the proposed legislation includes carbon dioxide in the pollutants to be curbed.
Mirant opposes a legislative approach.
“Based on the fact that we’re already making significant environmental improvements and that there’s real uncertainty as to whether we can install the controls any faster, legislation is unnecessary,” Arabia said.
Sulfur dioxide cleanups will probably require the installation of scrubbers — giant brushes that can reach as high as eight stories, according to Oberg. Scrubbers can remove up to 95 percent of the chemical from the air, but are so large they can only be used in the largest plants.
“There isn’t a single scrubber in the state of Maryland,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project.