Coal plants are making Chicago citizens sick, says report

Chicago's skyline is reflected in the "Cloud Gate" sculpture at Millennium Park in Chicago.


JEREMY HOBSON: Well a new study out this week shows two old coal plants in Chicago are polluting the air and making people sick. And as Tony Arnold reports from Chicago Public Radio, that means some serious health care costs.

TONY ARNOLD: The study says particulates from Chicago coal plants owned by Midwest Generation are causing asthma and emergency room visits. And that's costing $127 million a year. What to do about it?

HOWARD LEARNER: If Midwest Generation said, "We're going to clean these plants up by switching to natural gas," we'd be glad to talk to them about it.

Howard Learner heads the Environmental Law and Policy Center that did the study. Some utilities in states like Colorado and Ohio are switching their coal plants to cleaner burning natural gas. In Chicago, the calls to convert are getting louder. Midwest Generation's Susan Olavarria says the utility would have to spend a billion dollars to convert to natural gas and it isn't clear that the coal plants are causing the health problems.

SUSAN OLAVARRIA: Even the Illinois EPA web site says that one of the largest polluters of the area is actually vehicles. So each and every one of us would have to stop driving our vehicles in order for the air to be, you know, pure.

In Chicago, Tony Arnold for Marketplace.

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Particulate emissions from Midwest Generation�s Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants in Chicago and from Dominion's State-Line Power Plant are serious health threats for all who live, work, and attend school in the Chicago area. Data from the National Research Council found that particulate matter from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants created over $125 million in health and related damages in 2005 and that figure is likely higher five years later, as the cost of health care and lost work days continue to climb. Susan Olavarria's argument that the IEPA website has identified motor vehicles as one of the largest polluters of the area does not let these dirty coal plants off the hook. Yes, motor vehicles also need to reduce their emissions and increase energy efficiency, but that is no reason to excuse the preventable deaths of an estimated 60 people/year due to respiratory and heart diseases resulting from breathing in dangerous particulates from these dinosaur fossil-fuel dependent plants. These coal plants are located in more densely populated areas than any other coal plants in the nation. The plants are still running equipment built more than 40 years ago. Neither Fisk, Crawford, nor State-Line operate with modern pollution controls such as scrubbers. Ask your alderman to support the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, which would require Fisk and Crawford to drastically reduce particulate matter and carbon dioxide pollution within 3-4 years. Ask your U.S. Senators and Congressional Representative to push for enforcement of the Clean Air Act and follow through with fines for violators until they comply with the law.

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