CHARLESTON, W.Va. – An electric utility went on the offense Thursday, anticipating unfavorable public response to data showing significant pollution from coal-fired power plants.
American Electric Power sent representatives to news organizations to explain that the utility will report substantial levels of hydrochloric acid in the Toxic Release Inventory to be issued Friday.
“We are concerned about public reaction because our numbers are so high,” said Timothy P. Mallan, manager of environmental affairs of AEP. Officials of the Columbus, Ohio-based utility will not release numbers until Friday.
The report, required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by July 1, will include data for the first time from utilities, metal mining operations, coal mines, solvent recovery facilities and commercial hazardous waste management plants.
Last year, the inventory released for 1997 showed 13.5 million pounds of pollutants released by chemical manufacturers in West Virginia, Mallan said.That amount will be “considerably less” than what AEP is expected to report, he said.
A spokeswoman for Allegheny Power, which serves residences and businesses in the northern part of the state, said the utility also will release data Friday.
AEP and Allegheny Power, the largest utilities in West Virginia, each operate six coal-fired power plants in the state.
Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based trade group, has scheduled a news conference in Washington on Friday to release data from utilities nationwide.
“It gives us a chance to take the first step and let people know what’s going to be filed,” said Dan Riedinger, spokesman for the trade group.
The high numbers to be issued in the toxic inventory threaten to overshadow what Mallan said are “very, very small” risks to human health from hydrochloric acid.
Jan Taylor, vice president of the National Institute of Chemical Studies in Charleston, said hydrochloric acid from coal-fired power plants is in “relatively low concentrations.”
“This is not to say it does not have environmental effects in other areas, but in immediate health effects to the local public, it’s probably negligible,” she said.
But a spokesman for an environmental watchdog group in Washington said utilities “have been getting a free ride” in the release of toxic emissions that include mercury, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, arsenic, chromium and nickel.
“No one knows what the consequences are for the environment or public health,” said Patricio Silva, midwest activities coordinator of the Natural Resources Defense Council.