PA 2nd in toxic air pollution, groups find

Because of its numerous coal-fired power plants, Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation in toxic air pollution, according to a report just released by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Ohio was first. New Jersey did not make the top 20.

The groups analyzed publicly-available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's toxic release inventory. The report, “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,” found that nearly half of all the toxic air pollution -- which would be mercury, metals, and other hazardous substances -- reported from industrial sources in the United States comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

In Pennsylvania, 82 percent of the toxic air pollution comes from the electric sector.  The pollution from the state's power plants amount to 11 percent of the total from all U.S. power plants.

In March, the EPA proposed a new rule to limit these emissions, citing . At a hearing in Philadelphia -- one of three in the nation -- in May, numerous people testified about why the rule was important.

The EPA has estimated that, by 2016, the rule would result in up to 17,000 premature deaths avoided. It also would cause tens of thousands of fewer heart attacks, cases of chronic bronchitis, asthma cases and more. EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson has said the rule would create jobs.

Industry has said the rule is too expensive and would lead to job losses.

Some legislators are seeking to block the new rule.

But environmental and health advocates say the benefits are clear.

Joseph O. Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, based in Philadelphia, said that the report "further reflects the need for Pennsylvania citizens to support the EPA’s three-pronged approach to reducing air pollution from power plants. It could not be clearer that this approach, which involves rulemakings for cross-state air pollution, greenhouse gas and air toxics standards, would have a profound impact on Pennsylvania’s air quality."

“Power plants are the biggest industrial toxic air polluters in our country, putting children and families at risk by dumping deadly and dangerous poisons into the air we breathe," said Dan Lashof, Climate Center Director at NRDC, in a press release today. "Tougher standards are long overdue. Members of Congress who consider blocking toxic pollution safeguards should understand that this literally will cost American children and families their health and lives.”

"Air toxics from coal-fired power plants cause cancer, birth defects, and respiratory illness. Just one of those air toxics, mercury, damages the developing brains of fetuses, infants, and small children. It robs our children of healthy neurological development and native intelligence," said Lynn Ringenberg of Physicians for Social Responsibility, also in the press release. "Poisonous power threatens the health of our kids and families. As a pediatrician for over thirty years, I urge us absolutely to support the EPA’s efforts to reduce the health threat from coal.”

The EPA is taking public comments on the rule until Aug. 4. The standards are expected to be finalized in November.