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A Coal-Free Washington?

November 19, 2009

SEATTLE - A Sierra Club spokesman says his organization will use new study results from Physicians for Social Responsibility to push for a coal-free state of Washington. On Wednesday, the physicians' group released a report, "Coal's Assault on Human Health." It states that any site where coal is mined or burned to make electricity compromises human health with air pollution.

The report is "coal-fired fuel" for the debate about stronger pollution limits for the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia. The study links coal pollutants like ozone, nitrogen oxide and mercury to serious medical conditions, including asthma, lung cancer, strokes and heart problems.

University of Washington associate professor Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist and director of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders, says children are at the greatest risk of being affected by coal pollution.

"Children are not little adults. They eat more, breathe more, drink more per body weight than adults do, and the impact of health-related exposures is greater on them than on adults."

The Sierra Club sees the health report as one more reason for Washington to aim at becoming the first coal-free state. Although only one coal plant operates in Washington now, the group says it is the largest source of mercury pollution in the state and is already the subject of complaints to federal agencies for the haze it creates.

The state is negotiating with the company, but Doug Howell, manager of the Sierra Club Coal-Free Northwest campaign, says the tentative agreement doesn't go far enough to reduce mercury or nitrogen oxide emissions.

"We had a letter from 17 organizations complaining about the agreement. We're hoping now that this has been enough of a strong signal that the governor's going to slow down and reevaluate the substance of this agreement, to see if we can do better."

A public comment period on the tentative agreement ended this month. The Washington Department of Ecology says it received about 2,000 comments and expects to finalize the agreement early next year. TransAlta has said that using new technology to reduce emissions would be too expensive.

A link to the report is at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA