GASP Press Release Feb. 22, 2010: GASP, Residents Speak out Against Plan to Increase Toxic Lead Emissions at Cheswick Power Plant

Contact:

Joe Osborne
Legal Director
Group Against Smog & Pollution
(412) 325-7382

GASP, Residents Speak out Against Plan to Increase Toxic Lead Emissions at Cheswick Power Plant

Pittsburgh, PA (February 22, 2010) – Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and residents living near RRI Energy’s (formerly Reliant) Cheswick power plant are demanding that RRI and the Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Quality Program abandon a recent proposal to quadruple the Cheswick plant’s emissions limit on toxic lead. In 2006, RRI announced it would install an air pollution control device known as a scrubber at its 637 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Cheswick, PA. RRI has repeatedly characterized the long-delayed scrubber installation as a project to reduce air pollution emissions and improve air quality, but now the company is seeking an amendment to its scrubber permit that would substantially increase the amount of toxic lead the plant is allowed to release in the air.

“It’s incredibly misleading for RRI to spend years describing the scrubber as an environmentally friendly project and then turn around and try to slip in a permit change that would actually allow increased pollution,” said Rachel Filippini, GASP executive director.

Lead is highly toxic. Exposure to lead is associated with damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and the reproductive system. Lead is particularly harmful to children because their brains are still developing. Childhood lead exposure can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. “Though lead levels in Allegheny Country children have dropped in the past 10 years, 1 in 20 children under 6 here continue to have lead in their blood at levels high enough to affect brain development and behavior,” said Peri Unligil, M.D. Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UPMC.

Recent studies of the health dangers from lead exposure prompted the US EPA to drastically tighten its health-based standard for airborne lead in the fall of 2008.

While the proposed change to the scrubber permit would increase permissible lead emissions, the scrubber will also reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter. “We’re not opposed to the scrubber project in itself, in fact we look forward to it reducing noise and pollution from the plant, but the lead increase is absolutely unacceptable. RRI can’t ask a community to trade one type of pollution for another and call it environmentally friendly,” said Cheswick resident Bob Kristof.

Though RRI received an installation permit for the scrubber in April 2007 and the installation is nearly complete, RRI has repeatedly pushed back the start up date. At one time RRI predicted the scrubber would begin operating as early as the spring of 2009.

The Amended Installation Permit is open for public comments through March 5, 2010. A copy may be obtained by calling the Allegheny County Health Department at 412-578-8191.

More information:

ACHD’s announcement of the proposed Cheswick permit amendment

Reliant’s 2006 press release on the scrubber project

Information about lead air pollution from the US EPA

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The Group Against Smog and Pollution, Inc. (GASP) is Pittsburgh-based non-profit citizens group working for a healthy, sustainable environment. Founded in 1969, GASP serves as a watchdog, educator, litigator, and policy-maker on many environmental issues with a focus on air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania.