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New Analysis Shows Brunner Island Coal Plant Is Region’s Single Worst Smog Polluter

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania Power & Light’s (PPL) Brunner Island coal-fired power plant is the single largest source of dangerous smog-causing pollution in Southeastern Pennsylvania, according to a new analysis of pollution data released today by the Sierra Club.  The findings highlight the need for strong clean air safeguards from the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant and come as several environmental organizations plan to hold a community forum on proposed clean air protections at 7PM on Monday night at the Hamilton Health Center in Harrisburg.

According to pollution data from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant is the single-largest stationary source of dangerous smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution (NOx) in the region, responsible for nearly a third of all such pollution from facilities in Southeastern Pennsylvania counties including York, Dauphin, Delaware, Lebanon, Lancaster, Chester, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Bucks, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton. In York County alone, the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant was responsible for approximately 70% of this dangerous smog-causing pollution in 2013. 

The Clean Air Task Force has estimated that pollution from the plant results in to 50 deaths, 86 heart attacks, and 790 asthma attacks every year.

”My family has lived in the Bainbridge area of the Susquehanna Valley for generations.  I’ve seen too many friends, neighbors, and loved ones suffer with breathing problems, as well as lung and other cancers,” said Patricia Longenecker, a resident of Elizabethtown.  “The Brunner Island plant has been polluting our air for over 50 years, and it is about time it cleaned up its act and the air we breathe.”

This summer, Governor Tom Wolf’s Administration will finalize a new standard aimed at limiting smog-causing NOx pollution from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of this type of pollution in the state. A recommendation by the Citizens Advisory Council on the proposed standard is expected later this month. The proposed rule would not require any pollution reductions from the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant outside Harrisburg, which is the only remaining large coal-fired power plant in the state that does not have modern pollution controls to limit dangerous smog-causing pollution.

The chart below compares the percentage of NOx pollution from the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant to all other stationary sources in Southeastern Pennsylvania counties. Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)


The chart below shows the total amount of NOx pollution from stationary sources, including the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant, in Southeastern Pennsylvania counties. Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

“While we applaud Governor Wolf’s proposal to reduce pollution from other coal plants in our state, these proposed standards would allow the Brunner Island plant, our region’s single worst source of dangerous smog forming pollution, to continue to dump these dangerous emissions into our air without restriction,” said Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Pennsylvania. “A family in Southeastern Pennsylvania has as much right to breathe clean air as a family in Pittsburgh. Today’s findings show that it’s time for Governor Wolf to stand up for clean air in our communities and to close this dangerous Brunner Island loophole for the health and well-being of families throughout the region.”

In the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report, which grades each county in the United States based on its levels of smog and soot pollution, thirteen counties earned a failing grade for smog pollution, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Philadelphia, and York Counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Dauphin, Berks, and Montgomery County each scored a D.

“The recent update to the State of the Air Report again highlights the fact that the air is quite unhealthy throughout most of southeastern Pennsylvania,” said Kevin Stewart, of the American Lung Association and a panelist at Monday night’s event.  “We’re calling on state and federal regulators to do everything within their power to protect Pennsylvania families by reducing harmful air pollution, especially in these counties with failing grades.”

Two thirds of Pennsylvania residents live in areas that are already failing to meet the current smog standard, including more than 1.2 million seniors, 1.7 million children, and nearly 750,000 asthma sufferers in Pennsylvania whose health is put at risk from smog pollution.  In addition, people of color in Pennsylvania suffer from even higher rates of asthma and asthma-related hospitalizations, and are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of smog pollution.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are a significant contributor to the formation of smog pollution and are pumped out of vehicle tailpipes and dirty power plants.  Doctors compare inhaling smog to getting a sunburn on your lungs. According to the American Lung Association, breathing in smog pollution often results in immediate breathing trouble and long-term exposure is linked to chronic respiratory and lung diseases like asthma, reproductive and developmental harm, and even premature death.

In addition to being a leading cause of smog, NOx pollution also causes fine soot to form in the air.  “Fine soot or particulate pollution can lodge deep in the lungs, and it is well known that it can cause a variety of respiratory problems, including lung cancer,” said Dr. Craig Jurgensen, member of the Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania.  “We are now also finding that exposures to soot pollution can cause neurological problems, and may contribute to conditions like autism and Alzheimer’s disease.”  The ALA report ranked the Harrisburg area as 12th worst in the country for year-round particle pollution


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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.

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