Power plant pollution

A new report claims that electric power plants are the number one toxic air polluter in North America, accounting for almost half of all industrial air emissions.

Electric power plants are the number one toxic air polluter in North America, accounting for almost half of all industrial air emissions in 2001, says a new report by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The findings are part of Taking Stock 2001, the trinational organisation’s annual report on chemical pollution from industrial facilities. The report compares data submitted to the Canadian and United States federal governments by 21,254 facilities, which monitor their releases of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens and neurotoxicants to the air, land and water.

According to the data, 46 of the top 50 air polluters in North America were power plants. The sector generated 45 percent of the 755,502 tonnes of toxic air releases in 2001, with hydrochloric and sulphuric acids being the chemicals most commonly released from the burning of coal and oil. Power plants also accounted for 64 percent (43,384 kg) of all mercury air emissions, mainly from coal combustion.

Overall in North America, air releases decreased by 18 percent from 1998 to 2001. However, air releases, including smokestack emissions, continued to account for almost two-thirds of the chemicals released by companies on-site. For electric power plants, the decrease in toxic air releases was half the rate of other sectors over the same time period.

“We’re still pumping more chemicals into the air than all other methods of release combined. We’ve shown that it’s possible to reduce pollution, but cleaner air requires industry, government and the public to work together for cleaner fuels, conservation and more renewable energy,” says William Kennedy, executive director of the CEC.

Taking Stock’s analysis of the 204 chemicals common to both the Canadian and US reporting systems revealed that 1.4 million tonnes of chemicals were released into the environment in North America in 2001. Another 1.5 million tonnes were transferred to recycling, energy recovery and treatment facilities.

In the United States, three coal-fired power plants reported the largest toxic air releases in 2001: CP&L Roxboro Steam Electric Plant in Semora, North Carolina, Reliant Energy’s Keystone Power Plant in Shelocta, Pennsylvania, and Georgia Power Bowen Steam Electric Generating Plant in Cartersville, Georgia. These three plants each reported more than 7,400 tonnes of toxic air releases and were responsible for over seven percent of the total toxic air releases in the US. Reliant also recorded the largest on-site air emissions of mercury (819 kg) of any power plant in Taking Stock..

In Canada, a single facility is responsible for eight percent of all toxic air emissions: Ontario Power Generation’s Nanticoke Generation Station. The coal power plant was also responsible for the second largest on-site air releases of mercury (226 kg) by a Canadian electrical facility, following Alberta’s TransAlta Corporation’s Sundance Thermal Generating Plant at 270 kg.

Taking Stock 2001 is the eighth report of the series to compare industrial pollution sources in North America. The report is intended to help identify opportunities for pollution reduction, and is based upon the pollution inventories of the United States and Canada. Mexico does not yet require reporting, but is expected to announce a mandatory and publicly accessible pollutant release and transfer registry (PRTR) in the near future.