Coal fired power plants release harmful air emissions that can impact health. Emissions resulting from coal combustion are comprised of a range of substances including sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), soot, particulate matter (PM2.5) and heavy metals. Ozone, a by-product of NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), is another harmful compound formed when emissions are exposed to sunlight.[i] Significant research is available around the impacts of fossil fuel based emissions on health. Along with respiratory concerns such as asthma,[ii], and decreased lung function,[iii] air pollution has also been linked to heart attacks,[iv] atherosclerosis (thickening of the vascular wall)[v] stroke,[vi] Alzheimer’s disease,[vii] and increased rates of hospitalizations particularly in the elderly.[viii] While new regulations are anticipated to reduce these rates, not all poor health outcomes will be eliminated.
Poor air quality can impact heart and lung health.According to Kentucky Health Facts, heart disease death rates in Ballard and McCracken counties were 274 and 267 per 100,000, higher than the Kentucky average of 224 and the national average of 113 per 100,000.[ix] Kentucky experiences high levels of both child and adult asthma. The prevalence of asthma in adults in Ballard County is 16% while it is 15% in McCracken County.The prevalence of asthma in the region for children is 15.8%, greater than the Kentucky rate of 10.7% and the national rate of 8.4%.[x]
[i] EPA. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Cleaner Power Plants. http://www.epa.gov/mats/powerplants.html retrieved February 17, 2014. [ii]Clifford P. Weisel. Assessing Exposure to Air Toxics Relative to Asthma. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 110, Supplement 4 (Aug., 2002), pp. 527-537. [iii]EPA. Nitrogen Dioxide, Health. Available from: http://www. epa.gov/air/nitrogenoxides/health.html Retrieved: August 15, 2013. [iv]Peters A, Dockery DW, Muller JE, Mittleman MA. Increased particulate air pollution and the triggering of myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2001 Jun 12; 103(23): 2810-5. [v]Brook RD, Rajagopalan. Particulate matter air pollution and atherosclerosis. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 2010 Sep; 12(5): 291-300. [vi]Wellenius GA, Schwartz J, Mittleman MA. Air pollution and hospital admissions for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke among Medicare beneficiaries. Stroke, 2005 Dec; 36(12): 2549-53. Epub 2005 Oct 27. [vii]Moulton PV, Yang W.Air pollution, oxidative stress, and Alzheimer's disease. Journal of Environ Public Health. Epub 2012 Mar 15. [viii]Ji M, Cohan DS, Bell ML. Meta-analysis of the Association between Short-Term Exposure to Ambient Ozone and Respiratory Hospital Admissions. Environmental Research Letters, 2011 Apr;6(2). pii: 024006. [ix] Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020. http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/nationaldata.aspx?topicId=2. Accessed February 8, 2014. [x] Kentucky Department of Public Health. Asthma Facts 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/faqs.htm retrieved May 2, 2014.