Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Of Science and Smoke Stacks
By By Melissa Naiman
(From Vol 2 Issue 1 of the BI)
It’s pretty clear that the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations are bad for the health of Bridgeport residents. Numerous scientific studies have established that exposure to the types of chemicals and particulate matter that the Fisk plant releases negatively impacts our wellbeing. In 2002, the Harvard School of Public Health published a mathematical model that combines information on how weather conditions move emissions from coal plants and how pollutant concentrations damage health to determine how many people get sick or die because of a given plant. When this model was applied to the Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago, they estimated that each year the plants contributed to 41premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2800 asthma attacks. This equates to between $750 million and $1 billion in health related damages in the Chicagoland area over the last 8 years.
Despite protests and scientific evidence, the Fisk plant won’t be required to reduce its chemical emissions until 2015. Even then, how would we know, as a community, that the upgrades actually improve our situation? Other urban communities situated near industrial areas have successfully partnered with local and state governments to implement technologies necessary to quantify pollutants in their local area and pressure federal authorities to enforce compliance.
Sheffield, England has been monitoring NO2 levels (one of the chemicals released by the Fisk plant) through a network of community volunteers and laboratory analysts. Volunteers place plastic tubes coated with a special chemical that traps NO2 around the city and then submit them to a lab to calculate NO2 concentration. The local government uses this information to guide air quality policies. Similarly, Tonawanda, NY conducted an air monitoring study using special canisters that captured toxic molecules and analyzed them using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. This helped target inspections of two plants suspected as point sources of pollution. After remediation, air monitoring showed a 33-56% reduction of the toxins emitted by these plants. These monitoring efforts are both supported by governmental funds.
The EPA sponsors two grants that could help Bridgeport improve air quality and the environment overall: the “Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) Program” and the “Community-Scale Air Toxics Ambient Monitoring Program”. Further details and past announcements can be found at http://www.epa.gov/air/grants_funding.html. If the EPA can’t enforce national standards, we can at least try to take their money to improve our neighborhood.
Posted by Public Media Institute at 8:53 PM