Air Toxics Emissions From Power Plants Fell 19 Percent in One Year, NRDC Report Says

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Emissions of air toxics from power plants were 19 percent lower in 2010 than in the previous year, the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a report released Aug. 9.

The reduction can be attributed to utilities installing pollution controls on coal-fired power plants and choosing to operate some plants with natural gas rather than coal, John Walke, NRDC's clean air director, said during a telephone news conference. He called the decrease a “very welcome drop in toxic pollution.”

Nationwide, the electric power sector emitted 310 million pounds of toxic air pollution in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available in the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory, a database of emissions reported by industry.

The top-emitting states were Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, whose power plant toxic releases totaled 40.6 million, 36.4 million, and 31.5 million pounds, respectively.

Ninety-two percent of the country's air toxics emissions from the power sector came from only 20 states. Those same states account for 54 percent of the country's population and 62 percent of electricity generation, according to the NRDC report.

Power Sector Largest Emitter

The power sector is the largest emitter of air toxics from industrial sources in the nation. Coal- and oil-fired power plants emitted 44 percent of the air toxics in 2010, according to the report. The chemical sector was responsible for 16 percent of air toxics emissions, and paper product facilities accounted for 15 percent.

NRDC is expecting even more dramatic emission reductions in the coming years as EPA's mercury and air toxics standards for power plants go into effect. In 2015, mercury emissions should drop 79 percent, sulfur dioxide emissions should drop 63 percent, and hydrochloric acid emissions should drop 95 percent, when compared to 2010 levels, the report said.

“We have a long way to go to reduce toxic pollution from power plants,” Walke said.

NRDC first evaluated air toxics emissions from power plants in a July 2011 report, which found that Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida were the states with the highest levels of toxic emissions, based on 2009 data (140 DER A-1, 7/21/11).

By Jessica Coomes  

The NRDC report, Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States, is available at

The Toxics Release Inventory is available at