Power plants responsible for premature deaths, report says

Illinois ranked fourth highest in levels of health impacts from power plants

Pollution from coal-fired plants causes 2,361 non-fatal heart attacks, 156 lung cancer deaths and 1,356 premature deaths each year in Illinois, according to a new Clear the Air report released by several Illinois public health and community groups.

While our state suffered the fourth-highest levels of health impacts in the nation, the Chicago metro area had the second-highest number of estimated health impacts from power plants pollution, with New York City having the highest among all metropolitan areas. Nationally, power plant pollution cuts short nearly 24,000 lives, including 2,800 from lung cancer, and causes 38,200 heart attacks each year.

The report, “Dirty Air, Dirty Power,” is based on an analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own air quality consultants, Abt Associates, using standard EPA methodology.

Clear the Air also launched www.cleartheair.org/dirtypower, a related interactive Web site that enables the public to learn about the health problems caused by power plants in their town, city, and state. Illinois residents will be able to look up air pollution data specific to local power plants in Illinois.

The report compares the premature deaths that would result under the Bush administration’s air pollution plan, the existing Clean Air Act, and a proposal sponsored by Sen. Jim Jeffords to strengthen the Clean Air Act. The administration’s proposal would allow 4,000 preventable premature deaths each year compared with simply enforcing current law, while replacing the very safeguards that could save those lives.

“The results are staggering,” said Clear the Air Director Angela Ledford. “The Bush administration knows how to solve this problem. But instead of simply enforcing the law, they are allowing the polluters to rewrite the rules, weaken current law, and pass it off as progress.”

The report’s interactive Web site allows Illinois residents to graphically see how local power plants contribute to death and disease, including premature deaths from lung cancer and other cardiovascular diseases, non-fatal heart attacks, asthma attacks, emergency room visits for respiratory problems, and lost work days. Residents can also view how the numbers of premature deaths caused by air pollution vary under the Bush administration’s plan, current law, and Jeffords’ bipartisan proposal to strengthen the Clean Air Act.

“It’s imperative that our state and federal officials act now to reduce the adverse health impacts caused by these dirty power plants,” said Ryan Canney of Citizen Action/Illinois. “This new Web site is a great tool for the community, as well as politicians and journalists, because it lets us see how our pollution-related numbers stack up to other states and how the Bush administration is failing to adequately address these problems.”

Rebecca Stanfield, environmental attorney for Illinois PIRG, said: “Governor Blagojevich has the authority to require the old, dirty power plants in Illinois to clean up their acts, and this year he will decide how much and how soon to get the job done. We hope this data will persuade him that this pollution poses an unacceptable threat to public health that needs to be addressed.”

Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said: “By proposing the strategy that does the least to reduce deadly pollution, the Bush administration is continuing to force families to pay the bills caused by air pollution, while letting the power companies that actually create the pollution off the hook. The administration ought to be asking for much stronger limits on power plant pollution, not attempting to weaken the Clean Air Act.”

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