The organization Coal Free Massachusetts has released results of an analysis that found that the emissions from Brayton Point power plant has caused premature deaths and millions of dollars of health care costs that burden the economy.
According to the organization, 15 to 39 premature deaths in 2012 were caused by emissions from the power plant. The report also found that additional health impacts, such as heart attacks and emergency room visits for other conditions, were caused by the power plant.
The report that was issued last Wednesday, entitled “Brayton Point Coal Plant: Operating at Our Expense,” estimated health costs caused by the plant’s operation during one year to cost between $120 million and $294 million. Averaging emissions from 2010 to 2012, researchers estimate that ongoing plant operation for the next decade could translate to $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion in health expenses related to the plant’s emissions. The report says that families and individuals have to pay for the care of doctors, medications and hospitals to treat their illnesses or conditions that are caused by the power plant pollution.
“It’s time,” Becky Smith, of Clean Water Action, said. “The engines that drive our economy should not carry this heavy a shadow on our health and our economies.”
A press conference was held last Wednesday at a location in Kennedy Park in Fall River that has the power plant as a back drop to release the report.
“Brayton Point Station is handicapping the economic strength of Massachusetts communities and the region; even at 2012’s historically low operating capacity,” a conclusion in the report reads. “If the true costs of burning coal were borne by coal companies instead of Massachusetts families, profitability for Brayton Point power plant would be greatly diminished or altogether lost. When elected officials, regulators, workers and residents understand our energy choices are crippling our health and economy, the urgency to replace coal burning power with efficiency measures, conservation and cleaner energy sources will grow. Reduced reliance on burning coal for electricity in Somerset and the region will diminish the damaging health effects, mortality and expense that its pollution creates.”
Asked for a statement in response to the report from Coal Free Massachusetts, Dominion Energy, owner of the Brayton Point power plant issued the following statement:
“Brayton Point Station is one of the cleanest electricity generators of its kind. More than $1 billion has been invested in recent years to reduce its impact on air and water significantly. Brayton Point Station is one of the cleanest power stations of its kind.”
“Facilities such as Brayton Point are needed in New England both to help keep down the cost of electricity — already the highest in the continental United States — and ensure reliability.”
The statement said emission controls include scrubbers on three units that reduce sulfur dioxide by more than 95 percent. The scrubbers and an activated carbon injection system reduce mercury emissions by more than 95 percent. The statement noted controls installed to reduce nitrogen oxides remove about 90 percent of it from the plant’s emissions.
Dominion’s statement also said, a closed-loop cooling system with cooling towers has also been constructed that reduces our need to withdraw water from Mt. Hope Bay and our thermal discharges back into the river by 95 percent.
With those controls in place, Dominion Energy expects Brayton Point will continue to be a major supplier of electricity to New England while protecting the environment.
The analysis for Coal Free Massachusetts was done by MSB Energy Associates and Clean Air Task Force, examining the plant’s 2012 emissions of fine particles, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Researchers used a model that incorporated pollution dispersion and health impact data. The report says sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides have harmful effects on respiratory systems. According to the report, the power plant in 2012 released 3,200 pounds of hydrochloric acid, 5,100 pounds of hydrogen fluoride, 3,500 pounds of hydrogen cyanide, 22 pounds of antimony, 120 pounds of arsenic, five pounds of beryllium, six pounds of cadmium, 915 pounds of chromium, 32 pounds of cobalt, 82 pounds of lead, 190 pounds of manganese, 560 pounds of nickel, 690 pounds of selenium and 14 pounds of mercury. Nine of those pollutants affect lung and respiratory systems, six of them affect heart and pulmonary systems, four of them affect development of humans and four of them affect reproduction, according to the report.
“The pollution that comes from this plant is preventable,” Ms. Smith said. “The harm to our health and the cost we pay is preventable.”
Renee Driscoll, a health teacher in the Somerset Public Schools, attended the press conference.
“This information needs to get out to the public,” Ms. Driscoll said. “People really need to know what’s happening with the power plant. I just came here to be informed and it’s staggering the information this report has divulged.”
Ms. Driscoll said a lot of the students in her classes suffer from asthma and other diseases that are related to poor air quality. She is pregnant and concerned about how the air quality could affect her first child.
“My mother is a cancer survivor and she has lived here so long,” Ms. Driscoll said. “The doctor thinks it’s more environmental than hereditary.”
David Weed, executive director of Partners for a Healthier Community, said it has been difficult for Coal Free Massachusetts to do something about the Brayton Point power plant.
“There are cleaner alternatives and we need to keep the pressure up to make sure those alternatives are sought,” Mr. Weed said.
The analysis found that the emissions from the power plant in 2012 also caused 20 cases of acute bronchitis, 30 heart attacks, 240 cases of asthma excacerbation, nine cases of chronic bronchitis, nine emergency room visits for asthma, nine cardiovascular hospital admissions, four respiratory hospital admissions, 250 cases of lower respiratory symptoms, 11,250 cases of minor reduced activity days, 190 cases of upper respiratory symptoms and 1,890 lost work days.
The report says that there is a significantly higher asthma rate in New England than in the rest of the country with 15 percent of adults and 14 percent of children having asthma.
The report says that mercury, lead carbon dioxide, smog and sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from Brayton Point power plant damage human and animal health.
Coal Free Massachusetts, a state-wide coalition of environmental, economic justice, public health, faith and community groups, wants to phase out all coal fired power plants in Massachusetts by 2020. A bill in the state Legislature would do so if passed. The organization wants to advance energy efficiency and clean renewable energy, like responsibly sited wind and solar to support the transition from coal electricity generation in Massachusetts. Another part of the platform of Coal Free Massachusetts is to partner with and empower community leadership and vision and clean energy and clean technology development for host communities of power plants. The organization supports robust transition plans focused on long term health of communities, innovative opportunities for growing the green economy and support for workers and municipal revenues.
The report notes that the EPA has concluded that ozone pollution causes respiratory harm and that short term and long term exposure is likely to cause early death. EPA has concluded that ozone pollution is likely to cause cardiovascular harm and may cause harm to the central nervous system.
The report finds that Brayton Point power plant harms pregnant women, young children and poor and working class populations.
The report also notes that Brayton Point operated at historically low levels in 2012, so had lower pollution levels than it would have if it was operating at full capacity.
The solutions section in the report says there should be a “just transition” for Somerset with new economic opportunities and jobs and support for displaced workers while moving away from burning coal. The report says energy efficiency programs save money, create jobs and significantly reduce demand on power.
The report acknowledges that Somerset leans heavily on the power plant to fuel its economy and the future for the power plant “looks increasingly bleak.” The report says Brayton Point’s earnings dropped from $345 million in 2009 to $24 million in 2012. The report says that when the power plant was packaged with two others in a sale recently, an investor report valued the Brayton Point plant at $54 million, which is less than the proceeds it would cost to scrap the plant.
The report says that Somerset could draw from efforts around the country to redevelop sites of former power plants, military bases and mill sites. The report suggests that the effort should include input and exchange between residents, planners and policy-makers; conversations over time that communicate the evolution of the project; a planning process that is adaptive to public feedback, technical assistance to help residents understand zoning, funding opportunities and limitations of the site; and community visioning — a highly participatory engagement that empowers residents, municipal and state officials to call for redevelopment that will enhance social, economic and environmental merits and is culturally appropriate to the area.
“Genuine, proactive efforts toward a smooth transition to a brighter economic future for the Somerset area can yield a redevelopment which benefits the economy, the environment and the social fabric of Somerset and the South Coast,” the report reads.
Joe Lazzerini, a grassroots coordinator for the Coalition for Social Justice, said people know it will be difficult for the community if the power plant closes, but said they have to plan for the future. He said other types of businesses that do not have the same type of impacts on health as a coal fired power plant does need to be attracted for the site.
“When coal is burned, the damage is to health and our communities and that company does not pay those costs,” Ms. Lazzerini said. “Our people do.”
Ms. Smith said there is some good news in that Massachusetts is number one in energy efficiency in the United States and is also leading in renewable energy.
She noted the project in Somerset in which selectmen have awarded a proposal to a company to put solar panels on town-owned land, a proposal that is expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue per year for the town.