Two of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s power plants released more than 14 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air last year, likely making it Maryland’s top polluter.
The amount dwarfs the figures of the top polluters of 1997, the Westvaco paper products company in Western Maryland and Millennium Inorganics, a Baltimore chemical company.
Although the power company’s numbers are included in a report to be released next month by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in its national Toxic Release Inventory, BGE announced them yesterday, as did other utilities throughout the country.
The move was a coordinated effort by their national lobbying group Edison Electric Institute (EEI). “We brokered the effort to gather the data and get it out there as early as we could because we knew some of these releases would be big numbers and we were concerned they would be misunderstood,” said Jim Owen, spokesman for the institute.
The numbers sound huge, but they are little different from those of previous years and pose no threat to people or the environment, BGE said, noting that its power plants meet EPA standards established under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA does not regulate toxins released into the air by utilities, said Dave Ryan, a spokesman for the federal agency. It regulates utilities only for the release of chemicals that can lead to respiratory problems, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, or that contribute to acid rain, he said.
Daniel Pontious, executive director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group, scoffed at BGE’s claim that the emissions pose no threat.
“The reason BGE has to report those chemicals is they are hazardous, so saying they are harmless is ridiculous,” Pontious said. “Their reporting points out just how much pollution power plants pour into our air.”
The report stems from a change two years ago in the Community Right to Know Act of 1986, which added utilities to the list of companies that must report annually to EPA the use or production of more than 25,000 pounds a year of 650 chemicals. The EPA usually announces figures for the previous year in July.
The 16 chemicals BGE plants produce in quantities large enough to report are released during the combustion of coal and oil.
The utility’s coal-fired Brandon Shores and H. A. Wagner plants in the Solley area of Anne Arundel County, which generate nearly half of the electricity used in Central Maryland, were at the top of BGE’s list, releasing a combined 12.6 million pounds of hydrochloric acid, 1.3 million pounds of sulfuric acid and 600,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid.
Those plants burn about 15,000 tons of coal a day, according to BGE’s figures, generating electricity for 400,000 residential customers.
“When you’re generating that much electricity, obviously you’re going to have some releases,” said Clay Perry, a BGE lobbyist.
Westvaco, in Luke, and Millennium Inorganics each released less than 5 million pounds of toxic chemicals in 1997.
The EPA does not discuss whether the chemicals pose health risks, said Cathy Milbourne, an agency spokeswoman. “This is more a tool for communities to use. It provides the communities with information about the industries around them.”
BGE and Potomac Electric Power Co., which supplies electricity to Washington and its suburbs, have been struggling to meet state regulations to cut back on polluting fossil-fuel emissions from their coal-burning plants.
In February, a Baltimore judge told the state to extend its deadline of May 1, 1999, for meeting those standards but left the regulations intact, meaning that the utilities eventually will have to meet the standards or pay hefty fines.
BGE is installing equipment at Brandon Shores, its largest coal-fired plant, that is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by 65 percent by 2001. Nitrogen oxide is a component of smog.
About 45 percent of the company’s power is generated by nuclear plants, which produce no nitrogen oxide.