Citizens for Alternatives to Longview Power (CALP)

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Pollutants and Health

West Virginia has the highest rate of death caused by power plant pollution in the entire United States. According to US Environmental Protection Agency estimates, nearly 400 West Virginians die each year from heart attacks and lung cancer caused by power plant pollution. In addition, 314 emergency room visits, 331 hospitalizations, 7923 asthma attacks, and 41,627 lost work days are estimated to result from power plant pollution in WV. See http://cta.policy.net/regional/wv for more information.

West Virginia has the third highest rate of diagnosed asthma and the fourth highest rate of death from cardiovascular disease in the nation. The elderly, the very young, and people with lung disease and cardiovascular disease are most likely to die or be hospitalized as a result of short-term exposure to high levels of air pollution. Although these people are most likely to be harmed by air pollution, recent studies show that long-term exposure to lower levels of air pollution contributes to the development chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease in the general population as well.

Pollutants which would be released from Longview, if it were built

The Longview Power Plant will release large amounts of many pollutants that have been shown to harm human health:

Fine particulate matter - 110 pounds per hour

  • Rates of hospitalization and death from heart attacks and other types of cardiovascular disease are higher in regions with high particulate levels. Particulates also contribute to the development of heart disease.
     
  • Particulates can worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma. Exposure to high levels of particulate air pollution is a risk factor for developing lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD = chronic bronchitis and emphysema).
     
  • Fine particulates travel great distances and are found in both indoor and outdoor air.
     
  • On Dec. 17, 2004, the US EPA designated parts of Monongalia County to be in violation of federal standards for fine particulate matter. To read more about particulate matter, click here.
     
  • A recent study shows that teenagers who have grown up in US towns with the highest levels of air pollution have up to five times the risk of lung impairment as teenagers who grew up in the least polluted towns. Growing up in a region with polluted air harms lung development roughly as much as does having a mother who smokes.

Sulfur dioxide - 550 pounds per hour

  • Sulfur dioxide can worsen asthma, increasing the number of attacks an asthmatic person suffers.
     
  • Sulfur dioxide can worsen symptoms of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other lung diseases.

Nitrogen oxides - 396 pounds per hour

  • Nitrogen oxides react with carbon monoxide or other carbon-based chemicals to produce ozone. Although the ozone layer of the atmosphere protects us from ultraviolet light, ozone that is present at ground level is a major component of haze and smog and poses a serious health threat.
     
  • Ozone worsens symptoms of asthma and other types of lung disease. A recent study suggests that ozone may actually cause asthma in children (see news article, scientific abstract).

Sulfuric acid - 45 pounds per hour

  • Sulfuric acid can worsen symptoms of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other lung disease.

Volatile organic compounds - 23 pounds per hour

  • Volatile organic compounds include several cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.

Arsenic - 2.5 pounds per day

  • Arsenic is toxic at very low concentrations - the California EPA's reference exposure level* is only 0.00003 mg/cubic meter - that's like taking a piece of arsenic the size of a grain of sand and spreading it through a room with an 8 ft ceiling that's over 19 acres in area!
     
  • Long-term inhalation of arsenic causes lung cancer in humans.
     
  • Long-term ingestion of arsenic in drinking water and food and can cause cancer, nervous system damage, kidney damage, liver damage, gastrointestinal problems, anemia, and skin problems.
     
  • Because arsenic is so harmful to human health, the EPA banned its use in treated lumber (pressure-treated wood) in 2004.

Lead - 2.6 pounds per day

  • Lead is toxic at very low concentrations. The EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead is 0.0015 mg/cubic meter.
     
  • Long-term exposure to lead slows mental development and physical growth in children. In adults, it harms the kidneys and nerves, and can cause high blood pressure and reproductive problems.
     
  • When pregnant women are exposed to lead, their babies can suffer from low birth weight and slowed development.

Mercury - 1/3 pound per day

  • Mercury is toxic at very low concentrations. The EPA's reference concentration* for methyl mercury is only 0.0003 mg/cubic meter.
     
  • Mercury released by burning coal falls down onto land and water when it rains. Here, bacteria convert it to highly toxic organic mercury compounds. People are exposed to organic mercury when they eat fish caught in contaminated waters.
     
  • Extremely small amounts of organic mercury can have devastating effects on the developing brains and nervous systems of fetuses, babies, and children. Children who were exposed to moderate levels in the womb have been shown to have deficits in memory, attention, language, and other skills.

Conclusion

The American Lung Association gives Monongalia County a grade of "D" on many measures of air quality (see report). Do we need to add to this burden?

* CA EPA reference exposure level: at life-long exposures below this level, adverse health effects are not likely to occur. Similarly, the US EPA's reference concentration is the chronic exposure level below which adverse health effects are not likely to occur.

References:

Kaiser Family Foundation. (State Health Facts Online.).

Longview Power/GenPower, LLC Permit Application http://www.genpower.net/longview/environmental.html

National Center for Environmental Health. Air Pollution and Respiratory Health. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/default.htm

Pope CA. Epidemiology of fine particulate air pollution and human health: biologic mechanisms and who's at risk?. Environ Health Perspect. 108 Suppl 4 (713-723). 2000.

Seaton A, Seaton D, and Leitch AG, eds. Crofton and Douglas' Respiratory Diseases, Vol 2, 5th ed. Blackwell Sciences, Inc. Malden, MA. 2000.

Schneider CG. Dirty Air, Dirty Power: mortality and health damage due to air pollution from power plants. Clean Air Task Force. Boston. 2004. Available at http://cta.policy.net/dirtypower/docs/dirtyAir.pdf

US EPA. Mercury and Human Health. http://www.epa.gov/mercury/health.htm

US EPA. Arsenic Compounds. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/arsenic.html

US EPA. Lead Compounds. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/lead.html


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