The closure of a coal plant on Neville Island in Pittsburgh has led to an incredibly positive impact on the health of people in the local area.
The Shenango Coke Works facility — which produced coke, a coal-derived product, for over 50 years — shut down in January 2016 following community activism and sizable fines for pollution, per Euronews Green.
Since then, a study from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine published in the journal Environmental Research: Health has found a 42% decrease in average weekly visits to emergency health services for heart-related illnesses, as the media organization NowThis tweeted about.
The 2016 closure of Pittsburgh, PA’s Shenango Coke Works—a plant that heated coal to as high as 2,000°F in order to produce a product called coke used in steel manufacturing—led to an immediate 42% drop in locals’ ER admissions for cardiovascular issues. That drop continued… pic.twitter.com/QkesNz1q3c— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 16, 2023
Furthermore, when looking at data from January 2016 through December 2018, the researchers discovered there were 33 fewer average annual hospitalizations for heart disease compared to the preceding three years of the coal plant’s operation, corresponding to a “near-instant drop” in air pollution, as NYU Grossman School of Medicine observed.
Among that number, the study found there were “13 fewer average yearly hospitalizations for ischemic heart disease (typically heart attack) and 12 fewer average yearly hospitalizations for cerebrovascular events (most often stroke).”
And that’s not even mentioning the impact on the air quality in the local area. As Euronews Green noted, “average daily levels of toxic sulfur dioxide fell by 90 percent at government air-monitoring stations near the plant” following the coal plant’s closure.
Meanwhile, areas as far as six miles away experienced a 50% drop in the levels of the same toxic gas.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sulfur dioxide (SO2) can cause damage to the human respiratory system, and people with asthma are typically more at risk if exposed to these types of emissions.
The EPA also observed that sulfur oxides (SOx) are dangerous for trees and can limit plant growth, while SO2 and other SOx are contributors to the formation of acid rain, which can damage plant life and ecosystems.
While NYU Grossman School of Medicine noted that the Pittsburgh coal plant study did not provide a clear, cause-and-effect connection between individual health and the site’s closure, there was “a strong overall statistical association between the closure and measures of improved health.”
Study investigator Wuyue Yu told Euronews Green: “Our research provides compelling scientific evidence that the closure of this coal-processing coke plant significantly eliminated fossil fuel-related air pollution emissions that improved the air quality and cardiovascular health of nearby residents.”
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