May 23, 2011
CBF Report Cites Human Health Threats, Negative Economic Impacts If Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant Built
Regional health costs expected to exceed $200 million
(NORFOLK, VA)—A new Chesapeake Bay Foundation report released today says pollution from a massive coal-fired power plant proposed for Surry County could result in hundreds of asthma attacks, dozens of premature deaths, and millions of dollars in regional health care costs. The report, A Coal Plant's Drain on Health and Wealth, also cites a potential threat to safe drinking water in south Hampton Roads if the plant is built by the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC).
ODEC contends the project would create jobs and prosperity for the Town of Dendron and Surry County while providing energy to the region. Any apparent benefits, however, would be undercut by the plant's air pollution and its negative health and economic impacts, the report says.
"Poor air and water quality in Hampton Roads has already made negative impacts on our region's economy and public health," said CBF Hampton Roads Scientist Chris Moore, "Adding a new source of pollution, when Virginia must comply with new Bay pollution reduction requirements, is irresponsible and counterproductive."
Based on data supplied by ODEC to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pollution from the plant's 650-foot smokestacks will include fine soot particles, mercury, and carbon dioxide. The tons of soot particles from the power plant are projected to cause about 442 asthma attacks a year and an estimated 26 premature deaths annually, according to energy industry analyst David Schoengold, who is quoted in the report. The cost of these health problems is expected to exceed $200 million a year.
Dr. Stephen W. Shield, an asthma and allergy specialist who practices in Newport News, Williamsburg, and Gloucester, agreed the microscopic, soot-like particles and ozone from the plant could trigger asthma attacks and cause other serious health problems across the region, which already is home to five large coal-fired power plants.
"This air pollution would have a substantial negative impact on many citizens in this area with asthma," said Dr. Shield. "Virginia already ranks number six in the nation for mortality from air pollution, and another coal fired power plant – particularly in such a populous area -- would make us shoot up that list even further."
Health officials from the American Lung Association in Virginia, the Virginia Asthma Coalition, and doctors in Hampton Roads and Williamsburg have come out in public opposition to the construction of the plant.
The proposed power plant would be permitted to release annually up to 44 pounds of mercury and 921 pounds of lead, both heavy metals that can cause brain damage in children. The stacks would also emit, among other hazardous air pollutants, 6,800 pounds of benzene and 2,200 pounds of arsenic, which EPA classifies as known human carcinogens.
The power plant would also pollute the Chesapeake Bay and nearby rivers and streams with nitrogen oxides, which feed low-oxygen "dead zones" in the Bay. Like the other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Virginia has recently stepped up efforts to curb nitrogen pollution entering the Bay and its waterways to comply with the federal-state Bay restoration initiative. The proposed ODEC plant would add substantial new nitrogen pollution to the environment, making it even more difficult to achieve the state's Bay cleanup goals.
The additional pollution from the plant also would worsen ozone pollution in the region, challenging Hampton Roads and Richmond to meet federal air pollution standards and endangering availability of federal funds for regional road projects. Further, the plant would annually release 11.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and rising sea levels that already threaten Chesapeake Bay shorelines and wetlands.
As part of the project, ODEC proposes to locate a landfill for disposal of fly ash in the floodplain of the Blackwater River, one of the drinking water sources for the City of Norfolk. Dr. H. Anna Jeng, an associate professor of environmental health at Old Dominion University, said because flooding could wash toxic metals and other pollutants contained in fly ash into the river, building the landfill in the floodplain "is an environmental hazard waiting to happen."
CBF encourages decision makers to reject the proposed coal-fired power plant and instead encourage energy conservation and investments in alternative, renewable energy sources that do not threaten human health and the Bay.
Download the report | Find out more about the proposed ODEC plant