Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NRG and the Sussex County Cancer Cluster

I attended yesterday's meeting of the Environment Committee of the Delaware Cancer Consortium to learn more about the cancer cluster identified in the six zip codes surrounding NRG's Indian River power plant. I didn't stick around for the announcement of an agreement for eventual implementation of emission controls at the plant. The News Journal has the story:

The handshake agreement between NRG and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control would allow NRG to miss deadlines for limiting emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide by 2009. But it would require NRG to surpass state requirements before 2012, when more stringent rules go into effect.
The agreement also states NRG will meet caps on mercury emissions by 2009, and improve on more stringent rules by 2012, one year ahead of schedule.

Even though the agreement allows NRG to put off implementing controls to meet the state's new, stricter standards, state officials seemed pleased:

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. said the agreement "sounds like a very positive thing to me" because the company will spend time limiting emissions instead of fighting in court.

Environmental activists aren't so pleased:

But Citizens for Clean Power said in a statement its members were concerned NRG was getting "a pass" to cut pollutants that cause respiratory conditions like asthma and possibly lung cancer.
"We request that DNREC explain to the public why NRG is incapable of meeting the regulations as written," the group wrote.

For my part, I can't help but wondering whether NRG set aside plans to put new controls in place while it pushed its proposed coal gasification plant as the way to meet new standards. This is pure speculation on my part; I'd be happy to learn more and be proven wrong.
The session included presentations on the statistics of the cancer cluster. Identifying the cause or causes of a cancer cluster is difficult. It's hard to establish a clear causal connection between a source of pollution and the onset of cancer in a population. It's much easier for instance to establish a causal connection between inhaling cigarette smoke and lung cancer, which is why it is possible to state with a high degree of certainty that most lung cancer is caused by tobacco use.
Which is why the committee decided that the next step in studying the cancer cluster is to try to isolate tobacco use as the possible primary cause of the elevated incidence of lung cancer.
Ali Mirzakhalili, who manages DNREC's Air Quality Management Section, offered an interesting presentation on the atmospheric pathways of the small particles referred to as PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less). PM2.5 has been identified as a significant cause of asthma, bronchitis and other chronic respiratory ailments.
Using air sampling data and detailed wind patterns from the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), he made a plausible case that the majority of PM2.5 particles in Delaware's air come from neighboring states and as far away as the Ohio Valley. Mirzakhalili described Delaware as sitting in the middle of a "transport crossroads" where pollutants from hundreds of miles away converge.
I was pleased to finally meet some downstate environmental activists, Kim Furtado and Kit Zak (having met Bill Zak last week). These dedicated and knowledgeable activists have played a significant role in turning Delaware in the direction of wind power and away from burning more coal in Delaware.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the Indian River Power Plant is a source of 1000-1500 ton PM10 and PM2.5, there is no down wind PM air mointor in Sussex County. There is one in Seaford and it has shown non-attainmet with the new PM2.5 standards in 2001-2003 (38 ug/m3) and 2003-2005 (36 ug/m3). 2003-2005 sweeked in at 34.7 ug/m3.
The standard is 35 ug/m3, 24-hour average, 98th percentile, averaged over 3 years.

Particulate pollution increases infant deaths. Just go pull the death rates of The News Journal web page. No more argument about people moving to DE or smoking.
Infant deaths rates are in deaths per 1000 live births.

19951 Harbeson 12.8
19966 Millsboro 10.7
19939 Dagsboro 10.5
19958 Lewes 9.1
19947 Georgetown 8.6

Look upstate along the river where there are many pollution sources and:
19801 Wilmington 15.3
19802 Wilmington 12.4
19806 Wilmington 12.1
19805 Ellsmere 10.6
19809 Edgemoor 10.1
19703 Claymont 9.1

The US Average is just 6.9. Delaware is 6th worst in US. Now go read the DPH report. The word pollution does not appear.

3:08 PM, August 14, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

Thanks for stats on infant deaths. The numbers tell a troubling story.

I learned yesterday that there are ten air quality monitors in Delaware. Placing one near Millsboro would make sense to me. If you think you have a problem, measure it.

I remember the effort that went into placing one in Wilmington in the 1990s. The PM2.5 monitor in Wilmington shows non-attainment on a regular basis.

3:21 PM, August 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nausea hit when you said DNREC's Ali M- showed how "most" PM2.5 comes from west of us. So what. We cannot command PA, Ohio or WVA to reduce their pollution. Nor can NJ, CT and MA influence a whit what we do with Indian River. How can DE ignore its responsibilities to clean up IRPP for Millsboro and all our neighbors?
Were DNREC so confident that IRPP has little to do with the cancer and other disease rates, John Hughes would not have come down personally to tell the CConsortium, never mind, we're taking care of NRG and the Sussex County crowd.

Having the State of Delaware do a smoking study is a "fox in the henhouse" proposition. So let's forget them. Instead, let's all spend our time writing Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to ask them if they would mind reducing their emissions sometime soon. I'm sure they're paying attention.

9:03 PM, August 14, 2007  

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