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STUDY SAYS
COAL PLANT POLLUTION
KILLS 30,000 A YEAR

Studies Link Fine Particles to a Range of Adverse Health Effects

  • Hospital Admissions

    NMMAPS provides the best evidence to date for fine particles' link to a broad range of effects leading tohospitalization.While previous studies established the link between fine particles and asthma-related hospitaladmissions, including a 1999 study which confirmed the relationship between increases in fine particlepollution and hospital admissions for asthma, NMMAPS found robust associations between fine particle levels and increasedhospital admissions for cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Emergency Room Visits

    Several other important studies also tie fine particle levels to emergency room visits. For example, fineparticles were associated with emergency room visits for asthma in Seattle, Washington; Barcelona, Spain;and Steubenville, Ohio. Studies have linked air pollution with both hospital admissions and emergency roomvisits. There is more data on hospital admissions that allows researchers to derive more completeestimates. Abt Associates based its emergency room visit estimates solely on asthma-related emergencyroom visits estimated in studies. Estimates of emergency room visits for other respiratory-relateddiagnoses must await additional studies. Thus, the estimate for asthma-related emergency room visitslikely understates the total attributable to power plants.

  • Asthma Attacks

    While these studies of hospital admissions and emergency room visits provide evidence that exposure tofine particles is directly associated with asthma attacks, researchers have also examined therelationship between air pollution and less severe asthma attacks that do not result in hospitalization.Studies in Denver, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands found that substantial increases in asthma attackswere linked with fine particle exposure.

  • Bronchitis

    Several studies in the mid-1990's provide evidence that regular exposure to particle pollution over anumber of years also gives rise to the development of chronic bronchitis. These studies have beenundertaken with groups of Seventh-Day Adventists, a religious order that forbids smoking, in order tocontrol for smoking as a factor that could confound the health effects observed. Similarly, a study of 13,000children ages 8-12 found that higher levels of fine particle pollution were related to acutebronchitis.

  • Other Respiratory Symptoms

    Many other studies have also found a link between fine particle pollution and a whole range of well-knownupper and lower respiratory symptoms associated with air pollution including: deep, wet cough; running orstuffy nose; and burning, aching, or red eyes. Associations between fine particles and more general measures of acutedisease have also been found. For example, one study evaluated the impact of fine particle levels onlost work days from workers calling in sick, an association that suggests an impact of air pollution on the U.S. economy,while other studies link particles and non-work restricted activity.

    New Research Links Fine Particle Pollution to Heart Attacks

    Extensive new research published over the past year finds that fine particles at levels routinely foundin many U.S. cities may trigger sudden deaths by changing heart rhythms in people with existing cardiacproblems. Whilefurther research is needed, these early studies are extremely important because cardiovascular disease isthe number one killer in the United States, responsible for nearly half of all deaths. While heartrhythms in healthy persons remain largely unaffected by fine particle pollution, for those with existingheart disease fine particle exposures could have deadly consequences. The threat seems particularlyacute for elderly people who have existing heart arrhythmia-a life-threatening condition of rapid,skipped or premature beats-or the combination of a weak heart and lung disease such as asthma. Thestudies suggest that people are dying within 24 hours after elevated particulate matter exposures. Abouta dozen major scientific studies in the United States, recently completed or underway, are turning upevidence of heart pattern changes in animals exposed in laboratories and in elderly people tested innursing homes.

    How the Analysis was Performed

    The Clean Air Task Force commissioned Abt Associates, the consulting firm relied upon by U.S. EPA toassess the health benefits of many of the agency's air regulatory programs, to quantify the powerindustry's share of the toll of death and disease from fine particles in the U.S. The objective of thestudy was to quantify the health impacts of fine particles from power plants, as well as the expectedbenefits (avoidable deaths, hospitalizations, etc.) of policies that would require all power plants tomeet the same modern emission standards. For comparison, the study also estimated the health effectsattributable to fine particle pollution from all diesel trucks, buses, locomotives, and constructionequipment in the U.S. The health endpoints analyzed included death, hospitalizations, emergency roomvisits, asthma attacks, and a variety of lesser respiratory symptoms.

    To analyze the avoidable health impacts of fine particles based on existing and hypothetical policyscenarios, the Clean Air Task Force asked Abt Associates to run three cases using methods developed forand employed by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, extensively reviewed by EPA's Science AdvisoryBoard, and accepted by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in a variety of regulatory impact andassessment contexts.

    In its analysis, Abt Associates assumed full implementation of the power industry's current air pollutionreduction commitments, even though all of the required emission reductions have not yet occurred. Thebase case assumed full implementation of EPA's Summer Smog rule (i.e., the NOx SIP Call) and implementation through 2007 of the Acid Rain program. Abt Associatesanalyzed the following scenarios:

    1. Base case: full implementation to 2007 of the Acid Rain program (Phases 1 and 2) and EPA's SummerSmog rule (the NOx SIP Call);
    2. Base case in 2007 minus all power plant emissions - subtracting power plant emissions from the basecase gives us the health endpoints due solely to power plant emissions;
    3. Base case in 2007 minus a 75 percent reduction in NOx andSO2 from 1997 levels.

    Abt Associates (health endpoint assessment and damage valuation) led the study team with support from ICFConsulting (power system economics and air quality modeling), and the E. H. Pechan (emissions and airquality modeling).

  • Power System Economics (ICF Consulting)

    The first module of the model involves power system economics and asks the question: how will the powersystem respond to the imposition of the costs of cleanup? Possible compliance responses by the plantsinclude reducing emissions through emission control equipment, obtaining emission reduction credits fromother plants that "overcontrolled" their emissions relative to their required emission reduction levels,reduced utilization of the plant, or retirement and replacement with other sources of electricity. Theanalysis assumed that the power sector will meet the proposed pollution reduction goals in the mostcost-effective manner available and provides critical information on the spatial distribution of powerplant emissions before and after cleanup. ICF Consulting, EPA's power system modeling consultant, ran itsIntegrated Planning Model (IPM) to determine the spatial distribution of emissions under the variousscenarios. In running the model, ICF Consulting used inputs and assumptions consistent with EPA's CleanAir Power Initiative (CAPI) modeling analysis and other recent regulatory impact work.

  • Air Quality Modeling (E. H. Pechan and ICF Consulting)

    The outputs from the IPM provide the power plant emission inputs to the air quality modeling workperformed by ICF and by Pechan. First, they assembled the emissions inventory for all non-power plantsources of NOx, SO2 and directparticulate emissions. Using the power plant emissions inputs from ICF Consulting, Pechan and ICF ranEPA's PM air quality models: Source-Receptor matrix (used to model the NOx SIP Call and other regulatory actions) and Regional Emission Modeling System for AcidicDeposition (REMSAD) (approved by EPA's science advisory board and used in the Clean Air Act cost-benefitstudy). Both air quality models were used to estimate the baseline fine particle contributionsattributable to the power plants and the reductions in pollutant concentrations due to the targetedreductions. The inputs and assumptions used by Pechan and ICF are consistent with recent projectsperformed by Pechan and by ICF for EPA, such as the regional NOx rule(SIP Call), automobile emissions standards (Tier 2), and other similar analyses. The health effectsestimates reported here are based on the REMSAD modeling outputs.

    The air pollution concentration outputs from ICF and Pechan's air quality analysis provided the inputsfor Abt Associates' health effects modeling. Then utilizing health studies described above which linkchanges in ambient fine particle concentrations to changes in risk of mortality and morbidity, pollutionconcentration-response functions were derived that quantify the relationship between the forecastedchanges in exposure and the expected changes in specific health effects. Abt Associates then used themodeled changes in pollutant concentrations (from the base case to the emission reduction scenarios) toestimate the power plant-attributable health impacts from each. The difference between the base case andthe emission reduction scenario yielded estimates of the health benefits (or avoided adverse impacts).

    Once the avoidable health impacts were determined, the monetary value of each of the various healthendpoints was estimated through economic valuation techniques previously used in EPA analyses. Given theattributable and avoided health impacts calculated, Abt Associates tallied the health damages - from lostwork and cost of emergency room care, to the statistical value of human lives lost from power plantemissions - and estimated the benefits of the health impacts avoided under the cleanup scenario. Themethodology employed by Abt Associates was consistent with current and previous damage valuation work forEPA, and has been extensively reviewed by the EPA Science Advisory Board.

    The Policy Landscape

    These compelling findings come at a time of growing public concern over power plant pollution. From Acid Rain, to summer smog, to the dirty haze that hangs over our national parks and wildlands, to the mercury contamination of the fish we eat, to the threat posed by global warming, power plants' contribution to a host of environmental ills is better understood than ever. No other single industry comes close to matching the variety and magnitude of public health and environmental impacts as those from electric power plants.

    Fortunately, U.S. EPA and several states have begun to focus on mitigating the myriad problems of power plant pollution:

    Most importantly, federal legislation now pending would reduce particle-forming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 75 percent from 1997 levels and significantly reduce mercury and carbon dioxide emissions. Recently, the Environment and Public Works Committee of the U.S. Senate began hearings on the issue of comprehensive power plant cleanup. Given the uncertainty facing the industry from the combination of future environmental requirements and the advent of electric industry deregulation, even some of the largest polluting power companies have called for comprehensive legislation to clearly spell out their air pollution reduction commitments into the foreseeable future.

    Recommendations

    Old Dirty Power Plants Must Reduce Fine Particle-Causing Emissions

    Polluting coal-fired power plants must be made to comply with modern emissions control standards. In addition, the nation's power fleet should be held to nationwide caps on all four of the key power plant pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide. Reducing power plant NOx and S02 emissions by 75 percent from 1997 emissions levels will dramatically reduce fine particle pollution so we can all breathe easier. A 75 percent reduction is necessary to protect our health and is readily achievable. The deaths, hospitalizations and lost work time caused by fine particles from power plants can be reduced comprehensively only when the Clean Air Act's 30-year loophole for old, dirty power plants is finally closed. Requirements such as these can ensure that U.S. energy policy better accounts for the public health and environmental costs associated with electricity production and will propel us toward a more sustainable energy future that relies increasingly on renewable energy resources and conservation.

    Now that policymakers know that simply cleaning up power plants to modern emission standards could save over 18,000 lives per year, there is no excuse for further delay. Protection of public health compels swift action to dramatically cut the death and disease visited upon Americans each year by these dirty, antiquated plants.

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