Front Porch Blog

Health Groups Oppose Coal Plant and Urge Va. Beach to Do The Same

Just before Christmas, three health organizations announced that they are joining together in opposition to the proposed Hampton Roads coal-fired power plant and are inviting you to join them.

The Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), the Virginia Asthma Coalition, and the American Lung Association came together with a joint statement of opposition stating that the coal plant proposed for Surry County would add a troubling amount of pollution to the already troubled air in Hampton Roads and Richmond and significantly affect the health of the citizens especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems. You can see their joint statement and sign on to it on the American Lung Association website.

According to the most recent incarnation of the air permit submitted to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the coal plant is slated to emit a variety of pollutants known to be harmful to the ecosystem of the bay and to human health. However, the three health groups are most concerned about ozone (smog) and particulate matter (soot).

You can read the article on this printed on the WAVY 10 News website and see the video from WAVY 10 here. Note that the reporter incorrectly states in the video that coal plants are not a source of ozone. This statement was corrected in the written version, to state that coal plants are, in fact, a major source of dangerous ground level ozone, though it was not corrected in the video narrative.

Ozone: Good up high, bad nearby.

The ozone layer 30 miles above the earth’s surface may protect us from the sun’s rays but when ozone is formed where it can be breathed it causes serious damage. Ozone is the worst ingredient of summer smog and is created when two common coal plant and vehicle pollutants, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds mix in the atmosphere under sunlight on hot summer days. For more on the difference between good ozone and bad click here for a two page brochure from the EPA.

According to the health groups’ press release, “Ground level ozone is responsible for ‘code orange’ and ‘code red’ days in the summer during which exercise is discouraged and children, elderly and asthmatics are encouraged to stay indoors because of risk of permanent lung damage.”

You need only check the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s website on ozone exceedences to learn that Hampton Roads’ is already reaching dangerous ozone levels in the summer. Kimberly Williams of the American Lung Association said, “If this coal plant is built, the ozone problem will only get worse and those living with lung disease will suffer even more. This is a serious threat to our health and to our community which must be addressed.” See recommendations for activity under different ozone levels here.

Fine Particulate Matter

Fine particulate matter is microscopic dust that, when it comes form the burning of coal, is more commonly referred to as soot. Science has found that the smallest particles can be the most dangerous. The health groups contend that, “people with asthma, cardiovascular or lung disease, as well as children and elderly people, are considered to be the most sensitive to the effects of soot pollution.” It has been increasingly found that the smallest particles (2.5 microns) are the most dangerous. According to the Clean Air Task Force, “Over the past decade and more, hundreds of studies worldwide have linked particulate matter to a wide range of adverse health effects in people of all ages, including premature death, chronic bronchitis, hospital admissions and asthma.”

The three organizations cited a new analysis predicting that the lifetime impacts of soot from the plant would include 1500 premature deaths and thousands of heart attacks and asthma episodes, with a cost to society of over $12 billion for the 60 year expected life of the coal-fired power plant.

David Schoengold, the researcher who completed the study said of the coal plant, “It is not the largest [proposed in the country] but it would not be considered a particularly clean new power plant,” and he went on to say, “For proposed new plants, a commitment to build a new plant is, essentially, a commitment to the health impacts for the projected life of the plant,” which, given the current age of old coal plants, can be expected to go well beyond 50 years.

Taking their message to those in power

On the same day as the press conference, Kimberly Williams of the American Lung Association and Amy Paulson of CINCH presented their joint statement to the Virginia Beach City Council. In the photo Kimberly and Amy wait for their chance to speak at that December meeting.

Since the town of Dendron and Surry County approved local zoning for the coal plant in February 2010, ODEC has been seeking necessary approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps process may take a couple years or more and is not yet open to public comment. Meanwhile these health groups are taking their message to the influential downwind localities in hope that they will take a strong stance against the coal plant.

Currently the Virginia Beach City Council is considering adopting the recommendations of the Mayor’s Alternative Energy Task Force Report which includes a recommendation that the City Council adopt a resolution against the proposed Hampton Roads Coal Plant. The joint statement of opposition from the health groups, though seemingly well received, is just one piece of the pressure needed to get Virginia Beach on board. The City Council needs to know that their citizens are behind them in opposing the coal plant. Appalachian Voices and the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition encourage the citizens of Virginia Beach to contact the City Council either via email, written letter, or in person at the next two meetings on the 11th and 25th of January.

Email Contact: (goes to all council members)
Phone: 757-385-4303

Send letters to

Office of the City Clerk -CITY COUNCIL
City Hall
2401 Courhouse Dr., Suite 281
Municipal Center, Bldg 1.
Virginia Beach, Va23456

If you live in Virginia Beach you can find out who your councilperson is by clicking here.

If you would like some help with any of this feel free to contact me, Mike McCoy:




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