At the American Lung Association, a core of our work centers around ensuring that men, women and children across Georgia and the rest of America are breathing healthy air. That’s why we are concerned that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is considering pollution permits for a proposed coal-burning power plant in Washington County, near Sandersville in Middle Georgia.
Burning coal generates pollutants that spread across the state, including particulate matter and ozone, both of which pose threats to our children’s lungs. An estimated 10 percent of Georgia’s children have asthma, according to the Georgia Division of Public Health. That’s why we must clean up older, dirtier plants now — they pose a deadly risk. And new plants just add to the problem.
Particulates consist of a toxic mix of soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols. They are the most dangerous and deadly of the outdoor air pollutants. Breathing in particulate pollution, especially microscopic particles smaller than the diameter of a human hair, can increase the risk of early death, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for asthma and cardiovascular disease.
Ozone, or smog, is the most widespread form of air pollution. When inhaled, ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn and possibly causing wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks.
Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, directing the EPA to set national air quality standards to adequately protect public health. The standards require a “margin of safety” to protect sensitive groups — including those with asthma or emphysema, children and the elderly — who are affected by air pollution at lower levels than healthy adults.
The American Lung Association in Georgia favors strong and binding requirements for the latest pollution-control technology, up to and including a consideration of alternative energy sources that would drastically reduce or even eliminate air pollution.
According to data from Plant Washington’s pollution permit, every year the facility would emit 678 tons of soot particles, 40 percent of which would be the microscopic particles of most concern for public health, and more than 1,800 tons of nitrogen oxides, a main chemical in the formation of ozone pollution.
It also would emit a half ton of lead and 105 pounds of mercury, both potent neurotoxins.
Chances are someone in your family is at higher risk of harm from these types of air pollution. Children and teens, older adults, people with chronic lung diseases such as asthma, people with cardiovascular diseases and diabetics are among the most vulnerable. Studies show that even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors can be harmed if they breathe polluted air.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report. In many respects, we’ve been successful in achieving progress against air pollution, but despite many successes, EPA data reveals that six out of 10 Americans still live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.
As growth in the southeastern United States continues, it’s vitally important that we choose options that avoid contributing to air pollution or harming health.
The Lung Association in Georgia supports policies that make use of clean-energy resources and that speed the transition from fossil fuel-burning power plants, which emit significant amounts of pollutants, to cleaner technologies.
Because coal-fired power plants are among the largest contributors to many types of dangerous air pollution, we believe we must turn to other, better ways to deliver electricity that will not harm our lungs each time we want to power up our computer or turn on the lights.
June Deen is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Georgia and South Carolina.
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Credit: Miguel Martinez