700 Premature Deaths Per Year Linked to Pollution from Maryland Power Plants

Many Deaths, Asthma Attacks Occur in Maryland, Even More in Nearby States; Available Pollution Control Technology Would Ease Problems.

BALTIMORE, MD.//February 15, 2006/// Roughly 700 premature deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks and 400 pediatric emergency room visits per year are linked to current pollution from six Maryland power plants, according to a new study released by the Maryland Nurses Association (MNA).

Conducted by Dr. Jonathan Levy, assistant professor of environmental health and risk assessment, Harvard School of Public Health, the study looks at the impact of particulate matter and gases that contribute to fine particle pollution from the following major electricity-generating facilities in the state: Chalk Point, Dickerson, Morgantown, C.P. Crane, Brandon Shores, and H.A. Wagner. The analysis is based on Levy’s previous work on the topic and an application of peer-reviewed models.

The report concludes: “Considering health outcomes based on current population estimates, the six power plants together have an annual impact in Maryland of approximately 100 premature deaths, 4,000 asthma attacks, and over 100,000 person-days with minor restrictions in activity, among other health outcomes. The corresponding annual national impacts are approximately 700 deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks, and nearly 800,000 person-days with minor restrictions in activity. About 8-20 percent of the impacts of the six power plants occur in Maryland (which has 2 percent of the US population), indicating greater individual risks in Maryland but higher total public health burdens outside of the state than inside of the state.”

Most of the balance of the deaths and illness cases linked to the power plant pollution are in highly-populated downwind states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, along with impacts in Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well. The study notes that fine particles disperse over hundreds of kilometers after they are formed, and all six of the plants studied are only a short drive from Maryland borders. In addition, many densely-populated states and cities are located downwind of these plants. This means that, even as major and direct health impacts are felt in Maryland, the state also is “exporting” significant fine particle pollution from its power plants to nearby states, which also are experiencing extra pollution-related premature deaths and other serious health consequences.

Maryland Nurses Association Community Health Specialist Brenda Afzal said: “Power plant pollution is a major public health problem in Maryland. This study simply documents what every nurse in this state already knows is true. When you can point to hundreds of deaths and thousands of other hospitalizations tied to a single problem like this, there is a compelling case to be made for public action. Death and illness from power plant pollution strikes at the most vulnerable Maryland residents – the children and seniors – leaving it to the rest of us to do the right thing.”

Harvard School of Public Health Professor Jonathan Levy said: “The combustion of fossil fuel from power plants and other sources generates particles smaller than 2.5 microns, or less than one-tenth the width of a human hair. Hundreds of studies have established that these ‘fine’ particles trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate cardiovascular disease, and contribute to thousands of premature deaths every year from heart and lung disease and, to a lesser extent, from lung cancer. Because the formation and transport of fine particles is well understood, and the link between exposure and disease reasonably well established, it is possible to estimate the health effects associated with emissions from specific power plants.”

American Lung Association of Maryland President and CEO Steve Peregoy said: “This is a problem that we can and should do something about. Most of the fine particle pollution from power plants is a byproduct of the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and, to a lesser extent, the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions emitted by such plants. Sulfur dioxide emissions from the six power plants in Maryland have increased about 2 percent since 1999, while NOx emissions have declined 43 percent. There is extensive health evidence on the link between NOx and SOx emissions and a variety of adverse health impacts, including respiratory symptoms, hospitalizations for respiratory or cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality. Commercially available technologies like scrubbers can reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent or more, and would be expected to reduce fine particle health effects caused by sulfur dioxide by a corresponding amount.”

There are compelling reasons to seek even modest power plant pollution level improvements:

* Reduced death/illness. Relatively small changes in total loadings can yield substantial benefits to the public’s health. As noted above, reducing fine particle exposure from the state’s power plants would avoid hundreds of premature deaths and thousands of asthma attacks every year.

* Easiest pollution to remedy. Most of the remaining fine particulate matter comes from numerous other sources, e.g., automobiles and out of state power plants, that may be more difficult for Maryland to control.

* Compliance with federal law. A reduction of one microgram per cubic meter on an annual average basis (the maximum impact from these six power plants) could mean the difference between attaining or violating the fine particulate matter federal standard of 15 ug/m3. For example, a monitor in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, recorded fine particles at annual concentrations of 15.3 micrograms per cubic meter in 2004. While not eliminating risks, a reduction of one microgram per cubic meter would at least bring this area into attainment with the EPA standard.

The analysis is based on peer reviewed models and studies previously published in academic literature. This includes the application of an atmospheric dispersion model called CALPUFF, which has been evaluated extensively in the published literature (including in an application in the Washington, DC area), and an additional model that links source emissions with concentrations across the United States, which has been applied in EPA regulatory impact analyses and has similarly been evaluated in the published literature.


The Maryland Nurses Association is the only state-wide, non-profit, multipurpose professional membership organization for Registered Nurses in Maryland. The primary purpose of MNA is to provide direction and a voice for the profession of nursing. The Maryland Nurses Association promotes excellence in the nursing profession with programs and educational development for continued personal and career growth. As the voice for nursing in Maryland, MNA advocates for policies supporting the highest quality health care.

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