By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer
A report released Thursday by a national environmental group says that Ohio's coal-burning power plants rank among the most dangerous in the nation, pumping thousands of pounds of arsenic, lead, acid gases and about 60 other pollutants into the air each year.
The report - titled "Beyond Mercury" and commissioned by Clear The Air - examined the 2002 Toxic Release Inventory data submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine how much of those harmful chemicals are released every year by coal-burning power plants.
Ohio leads the nation with 83 million pounds of acid gases emitted every year. In addition, the Buckeye state ranks fifth in releases of arsenic (8,400 pounds), sixth in chromium (11,000 pounds), eighth in dioxins (19 grams) and ninth in lead (8,200 pounds), according to the report. "It's quite a toxic hit parade," said Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council. "Unfortunately, Ohio is at the top of the list."
Cinergy spokesman Steve Brash said those chemicals don't pose a threat to people of Greater Cincinnati. Brash said his company hired an outside consultant years ago that found levels of those toxins too low to harm people.
"And our emissions are set up to dissipate relatively quickly because of the height of our stacks," Brash said.
The report found local power plants as having high annual emissions in 2002:
Miami Fort in North Bend: 489 pounds of lead (7th in Ohio); 6.3 million pounds of acids (7th); 9,000 pounds of metals (9th), and 755 pounds of arsenic (5th).
Beckjord in New Richmond: 754 pounds of lead (5th); 5.3 million pounds of acids (8th); 10,000 pounds of metals (7th), and 805 pounds of arsenic (4th).
Zimmer in Moscow: 396 pounds of lead (10th); 1.0 million pounds of acids (15th); 4,100 pounds of metals (13th), and 133 pounds of arsenic (9th).
Health researchers at the University of Cincinnati say those chemicals, and the others coming from energy company smokestacks, pose a real danger.
George Leikauf, a UC air pollution researcher, said electric utilities are easily the biggest source of toxic chemicals and that epidemiological studies are able to pinpoint the number of people who suffer from asthma attacks and even premature death as a result of the chemicals coming from those smoke stacks.
For example, Leikauf said more than 1,170 people in Greater Cincinnati need to visit an emergency room because of respiratory problems related to high smog days, and another 57,000 people suffer asthma attacks.
Smog is created when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons mix with sunlight and heat.
"We can count the bodies - the number of people who go to a hospital or get buried," Leikauf said. "Power plants around here are the number one bad guys, because they are very old and very uncontrolled."
The report also says the Bush Administration is using a "sleight of hand" to weaken restrictions on power plant emissions in its pending and controversial mercury rule.
While restricting emissions of mercury, the rule also would eliminate power plants as a source of the other toxins, meaning less regulation of them. EPA officials in Washington did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
"The effect of the new rule would be that power plants will not have to use the best available technology to reduce those toxins," Shaner said.
EPA officials said in an e-mail to reporters Thursday that mercury is the chemical of greatest concern and that others are being addressed with other rules.
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