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How Dangerous Is VA Industrial Boiler Pollution?

February 23, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - A new report highlights a little discussed source of air pollution that the authors say is quietly killing thousands of Americans every year. Earthjustice crunched the numbers for what comes from the smokestacks at tens of thousands of industrial boilers - small onsite power plants for factories. Emissions from just 87 boilers were enough to put Virginia among the worst states in the country for pollutants mercury, lead, chromium, hydrochloric acid and soot, according to staff attorney Jim Pew.

"A lot of industrial power plants are really quite clean. It comes down to these several hundred in the nation that are causing a problem that is killing literally thousands of people every year."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing tighter boiler air pollution rules nationally. Some in the industry say the planned federal rules could slow economic growth.

According to the EPA, tightening the boiler rules on soot alone would save 8,000 lives a year. Richmond social service worker Duron Chavis says those deaths disproportionately happen in poor and powerless communities. He describes an experience he once had driving through an industrial neighborhood of Hopewell.

"It was one of those days when it was kind of raining, but not raining really hard - it was drizzling. I had my windshield wipers on, and they were brushing back brown-colored drizzle on my windshield."

The Earthjustice report cites two boilers in Hopewell. One, at the Smurfit-Stone container plant, emits 200,000 pounds of soot a year. The company did not return a call requesting comment.

According to Pew with Earthjustice, the EPA limits will mean new standards for what he calls the "bad actors."

"Getting their emissions down is not getting their emissions down to zero. It's just getting their emissions down to the level that the cleaner plants have actually been achieving for years."

Details of the report are available at

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA