The analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked the “Toxic 20” States based on levels
of power plant pollution reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. The
report looked at emissions from power plants in 2010--the most recent data
West Virginia’s electric sector
ranked 5th in industrial toxic air pollution in 2010, emitting more than 18.1
million pounds of harmful chemicals, which accounted for 81 percent of state
pollution and about 6 percent of toxic pollution from all U.S. power plants.
West Virginia ranked 7th among all
states in industrial mercury air pollution from power plants with nearly 2,500
pounds emitted in 2010, which accounted for 88 percent of state mercury air
pollution and 4 percent of U.S. electric sector mercury pollution.
Of the states surrounding West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are listed as the worst three. Virginia and Maryland are also on the list—12th and 19th,
John Walke, senior attorney and
Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a press
conference that nationally, the report found a 19 percent drop in all air
toxics emitted from power plants in 2010, compared with 2009 levels.
“That very welcome drop in toxic
pollution, which includes a 4% decrease in mercury emissions specifically,
results from two key factors. The first is the increasing use by power
companies of natural gas which is a cheaper and less polluting fuel. The second
factor is instillation of state-of-the-art pollution controls by many plants.
Those controls are being installed and will be installed in anticipation of new
health safe-guards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.”
Walke adds that the second factor
also includes the retirement of units and plants in response to either
pollution control standards or the increasing use of natural gas.
Finalized in December 2011, the EPA’s
Mercury and Air Toxics standards will cut mercury air pollution by nearly
eighty percent from 2010 levels, beginning in 2015. The standard should also reduce
mercury pollution from 34 tons listed in 2010 to 7 tons, sulfur dioxide by more
than half, and hydrochloric acid by 95 percent.
Walke says in 2016, after the
standards are fully in effect, these reductions will help avoid up to 11,000
premature deaths per year, 130,000 asthma attacks, almost 6,000 hospital
visits, almost 5,000 heart attacks, and almost 3,000 cases of chronic
“These public health improvements
are estimated to save the US economy $37 billion, up to $90 billion in health
costs every year while also preventing up to 540,000 missed work or sick days
Walke says while the new EPA
standards are slated to require compliance by 2015, they are also currently the
subject of lawsuits in a federal applet court in Washington, DC.