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2000 Releases

HSPH Report Quantifies Health Impact of Air Pollution From Two Massachusetts Power Plants

 For immediate release: May 04, 2000

Boston, MA--Air pollution from two Massachusetts coal-fired power plants contributes to particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone exposure over a large region. Using a sophisticated model of how particulate matter and its precursors are dispersed in the atmosphere, Harvard School of Public Health scientists Jonathan Levy and John D. Spengler have calculated exposures to 32 million residents living in New England, eastern New York and New Jersey from these older plants.

Their report estimated that current emissions from the Salem Harbor and Brayton Point power plants can be linked to more than 43,000 asthma attacks and nearly 300,000 incidents of upper respiratory symptoms per year in the region. The study also estimated that 159 premature deaths per year could be attributed to this pollution.

The health risks are greatest for people living closer to the plants. Twenty percent of the total health impact occurs on 8 percent of the population that lives within 30 miles of the facilities.

The researchers also analyzed the potential health benefits of reducing current emissions to the lower levels that would be reached by using the best available control technology required for newer power plants since the 1977 Clean Air Act and required by the US Environmental Protection Agency as retrofit on some older plants. An estimated 124 premature deaths would be averted per year, along with 34,000 fewer asthma attacks and 230,000 fewer incidents of upper respiratory problems.

The Salem Harbor and Brayton Point power plants are currently exempt from more stringent regulatory controls applied by the state and federal governments to newer plants. At a time when Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci has asked power plant owners to submit voluntary emissions reduction plans or face regulation, this study offers a timely analysis of the health impact of current emissions and the potential benefits of reductions.

The report demonstrates the usefulness of quantifying the health impact of air pollution for setting standards and choosing cleanup strategies. Emission reduction strategies might include burning cleaner, lower sulfur fuels, equipping plants with air cleaning devices, substituting alternative fuels, and aggressive energy conservation programs. Quantifying health effects can provide further incentives for public expenditures and for policies to reduce energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution.

The report, "Estimated Public Health Impacts of Criteria Pollutant Air Emissions from the Salem Harbor and Brayton Point Power Plants," was prepared for the Clean Air Task Force, a non-profit environmental organization focusing on air quality, with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The executive summary (7 pages, 16K) is available on the HSPH web site in Adobe PDF format at:

The full report (75 pages, 575K) is available at:

(Viewing either the executive summary or full report requires the freely distributed Adobe Acrobat Reader software. Click on the button above for installation information.)

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Director of Communications
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752