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Group says power plants kill thousands
October 17, 2000
By Christopher Anderson
San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer
A new study commissioned by an environmental group claims power plant emissions kill almost twice as many people each year as do drunken drivers or even murderers.
The study estimates that 93 San Antonians die prematurely each year because of power plant emissions.
A City Public Service official disputed those conclusions as well as the study's methods.
The Clean Air Task Force hired Abt Associates, a consulting firm that has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency, to quantify the health effects of fine particulate matter or soot released by power plants.
The resulting report, "Death, Disease & Dirty Power: Mortality and Health Damage Due to Air Pollution from Power Plants," estimates more than 30,000 Americans are killed every year by breathing tiny particles emitted by power plants.
The study said power plants cause another 20,100 hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular problems and 7,160 asthma-related visits to the emergency room each year.
"We asked new questions that had never been asked before," said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the task force, the Boston-based group that commissioned the study, and the report's primary author. "What are the health effects that power plants are responsible for?"
Schneider noted that drunken driving causes nearly 16,000 deaths per year, while more than 17,000 homicides are recorded — far fewer than the deaths attributed to power plants by the study.
Cynthia Levesque, supervisor of permits for City Public Service, the San Antonio-owned electric utility company that provides electricity to more than 563,000 customers, disputed the study's conclusions.
Levesque referred to an analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-funded group that took issue with the study.
Other studies, she added, have found no link between power plant pollution and health effects.
"It does not use an EPA-approved model and contains flawed information which has not been peer-reviewed," she said of the Clean Air Task Force study.
Levesque also took issue with the estimate that 93 people die prematurely in San Antonio every year due to CPS emissions.
"There is no local evidence supporting the claims from this report," she said.
State and local environmental groups have urged CPS to install more pollution control equipment, reduce its reliance on coal and step up efforts to make homes and businesses more energy efficient.
Levesque defended CPS' environmental record. She said all CPS emissions were below federal health standards.
"I would just say that CPS is already clean and that we're going to get cleaner," she said.
Schneider acknowledged the study did not examine medical records in every city, but he stood by the report's validity.
"We don't have autopsies saying that air pollution was the cause of death," he said.
Schneider said the study relied on previous work that has been done to determine how particulate matter affects human health and then used computer models to determine the impact of power plants in each city.
"What we're talking about here is significant reductions in life expectancy for people," he said. "The numbers in the report are numbers of people who die early as a result of pollution. We know this is true."
Enrique Valdivia, director of the Esperanza Environmental Justice Project, previously has called for a study on the possible health effects of CPS plants at Calaveras Lake.
Almost half of all the electricity generated in San Antonio comes from burning coal.
"It's the position of the utilities that (coal) is the cheapest, most cost-effective way to deliver the electricity we need," Valdivia said. "That statement has been made even though we haven't factored in the health costs."
Valdivia said CPS has downplayed its role in local air pollution by focusing on ozone rather than particulate matter.
"Whether they admit it or not they need to do more," Valdivia said. "I just hope the public pays some attention to this because it's an important issue."
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