Coal-burning power plants produce multiple kinds of pollution.
In addition to large, heavy particles that stay near the plant, these facilities also produce “fine particle pollution” — also called soot or PM2.5 — which can travel hundreds of miles from the smokestack that releases it.
According to a report from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, this fine particle pollution causes 3,800 deaths each year — sometimes multiple states away from the source of pollution.
According to Grist, pollution from coal plants affects far more than just the immediate area around the coal plant. The Sierra Club’s new report identified the areas with the most PM2.5-related deaths and found that the area with the second-highest rate, Illinois’ Cook County, receives most of its pollution from a coal plant over 300 miles away.
Not only that but over 50% of the deaths were due to 17 specific plants. And according to Holly Bender, the Sierra Club’s senior director for energy campaigns, the plants and companies doing the most damage are also the ones that have not yet announced plans to reduce their polluting activities.
What does it mean?
If soot pollution is damaging communities hundreds of miles away from its source, there’s no easy way for local or state governments to stop it. This is because the pollution often crosses state lines, changing jurisdictions as it harms communities hundreds of miles away.
Also, the study notes that many plants affect low-income communities and people of color more than other groups. Traditionally, the EPA acknowledges that these communities have been unfairly burdened with health and environmental issues from pollution — a problem that clearly continues today and may make it difficult to address pollution from these coal plants.
What’s being done?
This year, the EPA released a proposal to regulate particle pollution, including PM2.5 pollution, Grist reports. While it didn’t include specific measures to control coal plants, it would lay the groundwork for addressing this problem at the federal level.
At the same time, many energy companies are taking the initiative to shut down coal plants and turn to cleaner, safer alternatives.
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