Health Effects of San Juan Generating Station Air Pollution
July 2, 2012
A Summary of the 2012 Analysis Conducted by Dr. George D. Thurston, NYU School of Medicine
Following is a summary of a 2012 analysis of the human health effects of particulate air pollution from the San Juan Generating Station coal-fired power plant near Farmington, New Mexico.
The analysis was conducted by Dr. George D. Thurston, a professor of Environmental Medicine at New York University School of Medicine with more than 25 years of experience in the evaluation of the human health effects of air pollution.
Particulate Pollution from Coal Power Plants
- Particulate matter from power plants comes from soot emitted directly into the air and is also formed when sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides from coal plant smokestacks are chemically converted in the atmosphere to become fine particulate pollution (PM2.5).
- PM2.5 particles are very small – a fraction of the diameter of a human hair – and can cause lung damage, elevate the risk of heart attack within just hours of exposure, and increase the risk of cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality.
- There is no known threshold below which particulate matter exposure is safe for human health. Any reduction can be expected to result in corresponding health benefits. These health benefits can occur immediately.
Health Effects and Costs from San Juan Generating Station Air Pollution
- The following annual adverse health impacts are associated with San Juan Generating Station’s fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) that has resulted from the plant’s lack of use of modern nitrogen oxide pollution controls that have been required by EPA: more than 225 asthma attacks, up to seven deaths, multiple heart attacks, and cases of chronic bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Combined, these health effects and the associated lost work days and minor restricted activity days total to up to $60.8 million a year in public health costs from the coal plant’s fine particulate pollution that results from its nitrogen oxide emissions in excess of EPA limits.
- These findings are based on census data and application of the EPA-approved Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) for an approximately 200km by 200km area around San Juan Generating Station. The analysis probably underestimates the full health impacts and costs given that emissions from San Juan Generating Station likely affect communities beyond those in the study area and lack of data for other additional adverse outcomes from air pollution (such as birth outcomes in infants).