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Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy

Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com

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America's 10 Most Polluted States

America's 10 Most Polluted States

Do you know where you live? Half of all industrial toxic air pollution comes from power plants and 6,700 power plants and heavy industries are responsible for 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Coal- and oil-fired power plants contribute 44% of all toxic air pollution. Toxic mercury and emissions from the country’s electricity sector are estimated to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma cases and chronic bronchitis every year.

While there are varying lists of America’s most toxic, we’ll focus on the latest top 10 list from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which ranks states in terms of overall industrial pollution, along with reporting from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many of the US’ most toxic states have seen a reduction of pollution over the past several years, but a federal court of appeals ruling to scrap an EPA regulation on “Cross-State Air Pollution”, designed to reduce air pollution carried from one state to another. Power plants had been expecting this ruling to be approved for over a year, and had adjusted their practices accordingly. The immediate reaction to the federal court’s scrapping of the rule resulted in a queuing up of power plants to abandon preparations for this compliance. Likewise, the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standards (MATs), designed to cut mercury air pollution beginning in 2015 by 79% from 2010 levels failed in the Senate in June.

So where are we now? Well, we’re stuck with this list of states that are the most toxic, and while much progress has been made, the list is likely to contain the usual suspects next year and fewer improvements on pollution.  

Number 1: Ohio

Ohio’s electricity-generation sector emitted more than 36.4 million pounds of harmful chemicals in 2010, accounting for 62% of state pollution and about 12% of toxic pollution from all US power plants. The state also ranked 2nd in industrial mercury air pollution from power plants, emitting almost 4,210 pounds in 2010 (73% of the state’s mercury air pollution and 6% of US electricity sector mercury pollution).

Ohio is home to the Gen J M Gavin coal plant in Cheshire, which is the 9th biggest polluter in the United States, according to the EPA, which estimates the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2010 at 16,872,856 CO2e.

Number 2: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is ranked third on the second annual "Toxic 20" ranking of states whose residents are exposed to the most pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. It represents a small improvement over last year, when Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation in the percentage of toxic pollution generated by power plants. Pennsylvania is responsible for some 10% of all toxic pollution from power plants in the US, releasing nearly 32 million pounds of harmful chemicals in 2010 alone.

From 2009 to 2010, air pollution from all sources in Pennsylvania dropped by 20 percent and from coal-fired power plants by 24%, according to HRDC.

Number 3: Florida

While the EPA ranked Florida the 6th worst polluter in 2010, the NRDC ranked it as 2nd worst in its 2012 list. Florida’s electricity-generation sector emitted nearly 16.7 million pounds of harmful chemicals in 2010, according to the EPA, accounting for 57% of all state pollution and 5% of toxic pollution from all US power plants. Florida’s electricity sector emitted some 1,710 pounds of mercury into the air, accounting for 75% of the entire state’s mercury air pollution for that same year.

Florida has undergone a major shift from coal to natural gas. Twelve years ago, natural gas accounted for less than 30% of Florida’s electricity production. By 2011, Florida was generating 62% of its total power from natural gas, with coal accounting for 23%. (Only Texas has a higher percentage). Florida has three nuclear power plants, which accounted for just under 10% of electricity generation in 2011.  Florida has 10 large power plants, eight of which are now fueled by natural gas.

However, despite the shift from coal to natural gas, Florida’s carbon dioxide emissions have continued to increase, while sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced. Florida has seen its greenhouse gas emissions increase from 91 million tons in 1990 to 124 million tons in 2010.

Number 4: Kentucky

Kentucky may not have been ranked the worst overall polluter in the US, but it is ranked worst in terms of toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, with HRDC officials specifically citing Kentucky’s poor control over these plants and its failure to adopt any laws or regulations that would lead to a notable reduction in pollution.

Kentucky’s electricity sector actually saw an increase in toxic air pollution from 8.8 million pounds in 2009 to 9.6 million pounds in 2010.

It’s not likely to improve much. Just one day after a federal appeals court scrapped the EPA rule to curb long-distance power plant pollution drifting, the Kentucky-based Big Rivers Electric Cooperative power plant announced it would abandon pollution controls that would have allowed it to comply with the EPA’s regulation.

Number 5: Maryland

Ranked 5th overall for total industrial pollution, coal-burning power plants keep Maryland higher on the pollution list than the state would like. In terms of coal-burning power plant pollution, Maryland is ranked 19th by the NRDC, which also noted that the state’s toxic emissions from power plants dropped by 88% over the course of one year. The biggest polluters are the Chesterfield, Chesapeake and Clinch River power plants.

Number 6: Indiana

The Gibson coal plant in Owensville had total greenhouse gas emissions of 17,993,350 CO2e in 2010, according to the EPA, which ranked the plant the fifth worst polluter in the US. The state’s Rockport coal plant ranked the 10th worth polluter in the country, with total greenhouse gas emissions of 16,666,035 CO2e.

Number 7: Michigan

Michigan’s electricity sector emitted over 15.5 million pounds of harmful chemicals, which translates into 61% of all state pollution and 5% of power plant pollution countrywide. The sector also caused around 2,250 pounds of mercury air pollution, which is 82% of the state’s entire mercury air pollution and 3% of the country’s electricity sector mercury pollution.

The Monroe coal plant registered total greenhouse gas emissions 17,850,341 CO2e with the EPA in 2010, making it the country’s 6th worst polluter.

Michigan has not increased or reduced pollution in the electricity sector since the last ranking in 2009. The only thing saving Michigan’s air—a decline in manufacturing, which of course is not the ideal.


Number 8: West Virginia

West Virginia’s electrical power generation was responsible for over 80% of toxic industrial air pollution in the state, while the chemical sector was responsible for 10%. In 2010, West Virginia’s electricity sector emitted 18.1 million pounds of harmful chemicals, or 81% of all state pollution and 6% of the country’s total power plant pollution. In terms of mercury air poisoning, 2,500 of toxic mercury were released into the air in 2010.

The biggest polluters are power plants owned by Allegheny Energy, AEP and Dominion.

Incidentally, West Virginia has the highest per capita mortality risk from fine particle pollution among states.

Number 9: Georgia

According to the EPA, Georgia’s Scherer coal-fired power plant near Macon is the number one producer of greenhouse gases in the United States, emitting 22.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide alone in 2010.

Georgia is also home to the second worst polluter in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, with its Bowen Plant in Cartersville, which boasted total greenhouse gas emissions of 21,026,397 in 2010. This plant was also listed as the largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in 2006 and blamed for a variety of health issues, from asthma, bronchitis and heart disease to lung disease and pneumonia. Plans are reportedly under way for the installation of scrubbers on the plant’s four cooling towers to remove sulfur dioxide from exhaust before it is released into the air.

Number 10: North Carolina

North Carolina’s electric sector ranked 8th in industrial toxic air pollution in 2010, emitting more than 14.6 million pounds of harmful chemicals, or 48% of state pollution and about 5% of total US toxic pollution from power plants.  In terms of mercury air pollution from power plants, North Carolina ranked 24th, producing some 960 tons of toxic mercury in 2010, or 47% of mercury air pollution in the state.

By. Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Zharkov on September 07 2012 said:
    The absolute worst offender for pollution has been the U.S. government. Every U.S. military base has dumped tons of toxic waste somewhere on the base and generates tons of air pollution from military vehicles, aircraft, gunnery range activity, etc., and the continuing use of depleted uranium ammunition is injuring our troops as well as the enemy.

    Off the coast of Washington State are hundreds of barrels leaking dangerously high level radioactive waste into the ocean courtesy of the U.S. government's nuclear weapons program.

    The EPA continues to ignore the ongoing disaster of millions of tons of plutonium/uranium waste generated by nuclear power generation some of which was dumped into our oceans, nuclear arms manufacturing waste, and of course, the huge amount of radiation from Japan currently poisoning U.S. water supplies and soil.

    The nuclear industry forced reactors onto the Japanese, and U.S. government agencies licensed those reactors sold to Japan that exploded. Japan was a nuclear-free zone after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it was U.S. government pressure that changed all of that. So the people who have caused this problem now wish to divert attention away from it by going after CO2, which is relatively harmless compared with Plutonium?
  • Oldbiker on September 07 2012 said:
    Want to really see polution, try CA. While we may have 'clean air standards in place' the ground standards are lacking. Hundreds and thousands of dirty street people live in the finest of communities, they hang out outside every store begging, fill the parks with their hidden camps and destroy what was a marginally beautiful place into a large sewage dump with trees. Most of the parks in the area where I live are not fit for use, as they are really just toilets with trees. The roads in CA are lined with debree as littering is as common as breathing.
  • MC on September 07 2012 said:
    Oldbiker, if you think the street people are bad now, just wait another 4 years. It's only going to get worse.
  • iNewton on September 07 2012 said:
    Mercury is a pollutant. Suphur dioxide is a pollutant. Noise is likely the most insidious pollutant facing civilized man today. Hell, even carbon MONoxide is a pollutant. But carbon dioxide is NOT A POLLUTANT. Everybody needs to get off this CO2 kick. It's all BS, based on garbage science. Today's scientific "research" is rife with its own pollutant, the leftist agenda.
  • Sask Resident on September 09 2012 said:
    I have to agree with iNewton, CO2 is not a toxic pollutant unless you are in a lower confined area (so is water). Also the article focuses on air pollution rather than pollution toxic to people and animals like leaking municipal sewage, garbage (hidden under dirt or not), leaking wastes, etc. I notice that the article even missed the still toxic Love Canal.
  • Lisa on March 05 2013 said:
    I can't believe Texas didn't make this list. I live in Florida and thought about moving there until I read about all the air and land pollution . At least in Florida the pollution is blown out to the ocean from the winds blowing across the state. I wish we could all switch to cleaner forms of energy . I hate all this pollution.
  • wav0ka029 on October 22 2014 said:
    Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
  • obie watts on February 07 2015 said:
    Our great senate ( isnt that the really rich
    club) voted down the MATS standards that would have reduced mercury emissions
    from 2010 by79%. If true
    this country's rich leaders
    could care less about people (children) health.

    They represent the capitalist well though.
    History always repeats..pollution laws passed
    states, power companies delay or even refuse to follow law.(see Kentucky Big Rivers Electric Cooperative) and their latest announcements regarding NOT CONTUING TO FOLLOW POLLUTION CONTROLS.

  • TW on December 17 2015 said:
    What about Hawaii? Although the state itself probably isn't polluted, they emit pollution by means of all the planes landing and taking off. Aren't jets a major source of pollution?

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