Skip to main content

The Toxic Air Burden From Industrial Power Plants

This map shows the facilities with industrial power plants that, according to the EPA, will need to meet emission limits under the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Standards

Related Documents

White Paper:
The Toxic Air Burden From Industrial Power Plants

State Fact Sheets: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia

Press Contact

Brian Smith:
bsmith@earthjustice.org
Tel: 415-217-2014

What You Can Do
About Industrial Boilers

Industrial power plants provide heat and electricity to major industrial facilities like chemical plants and oil refineries.

Industrial power plants are the nation's third largest source of mercury pollution. Their emissions of fine particles—which penetrate deep into people's lungs—kill as many as 8,100 people every year.

Listen to the episode ‘Breaking Down Boilers’ from Earthjustice’s environmental news podcast, EJ90:

Health Impacts

Chromium
A known carcinogen, emissions have been linked to breathing problems and lung disease in some workers.

Lead
Can cause developmental delays and adversely impact memory and behavior. It is also linked to cardiovascular and kidney effects, anemia, and weakness of the extremities.

Hydrochloric acid
Can cause eye, nose and respiratory tract irritation, ulceration, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Mercury
A potent neurotoxin that is linked to lower IQs in young children and other developmental delays. It is so potent that less than one teaspoon can contaminate an entire 20 acre lake.

PM2.5
Also known as fine particulate matter or soot, exposure can harm the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and lead to premature death.

Update: On March 8, 2012 the Senate rejected an amendment that would have exempted industrial power plants—the nation's second worst toxic air polluters—from the Clean Air Act.

Learn more about this important victory for public health

Thank you Senator Brown for keeping clean air standards alive and breathing in Ohio:

Protecting Our Health From A Toxic Threat

Though smaller than regular plants, industrial power plants are the U.S.'s third largest source of mercury pollution. The dirtiest of these facilities released more than 160 million pounds of toxic air pollutants like mercury, lead, benzene and acid gases in 2010 alone. Earthjustice has worked for more than a decade to reduce health threats from pollution caused by industrial power plants - also known as industrial boilers.

In 2011, under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA issued revised Clean Air Act emission standards for these plants that will save thousands of lives each year and prevent widespread sickness and suffering. Industry groups, including the Koch brothers, SPI: The Plastics Trade Association, and others, have launched an attack on Capitol Hill in an attempt to permanently block these protections. If they succeed, the pollution and subsequent health damage will continue unabated.

The EPA has stated that there are approximately 1,750 industrial power plants nationwide that will need to meet emission limits for hazardous air pollutants under the new standards often referred to as the "boiler MACT". Research by Earthjustice identified that there are 1,753 industrial power plants located at 758 individual facilities in 44 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that will need to meet emission limits.

The baseline emissions of these industrial power plants, according to data from the EPA, exceed:

  • 10,000 pounds/year of mercury;
  • 215,000 pounds/year of lead;
  • 123,000 pounds/year of chromium;
  • 100 million pounds/year of hydrochloric acid; and
  • 100 million pounds/year of fine particulate matter.

These numbers illustrate the tremendous capacity of industrial power plants to pollute our air. The owners of these industrial power plants, along with their congressional allies, have sought time and again to kill these standards. Two bills were introduced in 2011—S. 1392 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 2250 in the House of Representatives—that would permanently exempt industrial power plants from the Clean Air Act. These bills have also been attached repeatedly as "riders" to unrelated, must-pass budget and payroll tax bills, a disingenuous strategy to undercut badly needed public health protections by trading them off against legislation designed to provide economic relief.

“EPA’s new standards are not perfect, but they will save thousands of lives every year and they will prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and asthma attacks by finally bringing the pollution from these extraordinarily dirty industrial power plants under control”
— Earthjustice Attorney James Pew

Where Are The Most Poisonous Facilities?

Toxic 10 Mercury Emissions
1. John Deere Dubuque Works
Dubuque, IA
2. U.S. Steel – Gary Works
Gary, IN
3. Hovensa LLC
Christiansted, VI
4. Arcelor Mittal Burns Harbor LLC   
Burns Harbor, IN
5. Invista S.A.R.L. Seaford Plant
Seaford, DE
6. Thunder Basin Coal Creek Mine
Wright, WY
7. Luke Mill
Luke, MD
8. ArcelorMittal Weirton Inc.
Weirton, WV
9. Cargill
Akron, OH
10. Eastman Chemical Company
Kingsport, TN
Toxic 10 Lead Emissions
1. Boise Packaging and Newsprint, LLC
DeRidder, LA
2. Hovensa LLC
Christiansted, VI
3. Grays Harbor Paper, L. P.
Hoquiam, WA
4. Georgia-Pacific Wood Products LLC
Russellville, SC
5. American Electric Power John E. Amos PlantWinfield, WV
6. Georgia Pacific - Cedar Springs Paper
Cedar Springs, GA
7. American Electric Power Rockport Plant
Rockport, IN
8. American Electric Power Gavin Plant
Cheshire, OH
9. Duke Energy Ohio - Wm H. Zimmer
Moscow, OH
10. Arnold Engineering Development Center
Arnold AFB, TN

Find detailed emissions data and learn more about your neighborhood: Download The White Paper

Key Findings

  • 16 states (AL, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, NC, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV) are in the top 20 for all of the following: baseline emissions of mercury, lead, chromium, hydrochloric acid and fine particulate matter from industrial power plants.
  • 80 percent of the facilities with the highest baseline emissions of mercury from industrial power plants are in the two highest categories of potential risk to human health from airborne toxics, according to data compiled by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity.
  • 75 percent of the facilities with the highest baseline emissions of lead from industrial power plants are in the two highest categories of potential risk to human health from airborne toxics.
  • 70 percent of the facilities with the highest baseline emissions of chromium from industrial power plants are in the two highest categories of potential risk to human health from airborne toxics.
  • 65 percent of the facilities with the highest baseline emissions of hydrochloric acid from industrial power plants are in the two highest categories of potential risk to human health from airborne toxics.
  • 90 percent of the facilities with the highest baseline emissions of PM2.5 from industrial power plants are in the two highest categories of potential risk to human health from airborne toxics.

Download The White Paper

The Toxic Air Burden From Industrial Power Plants