Press Release

Press Release: Midwest Communities Dominate EPA’s Sulfur Dioxide Pollution List


July 30, 2013


U.S. EPA Identifies More Midwest Communities with Excessive Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) Pollution

Endangering Public Health

Cleaning Up Power Plants to Reduce Pollutant Good for Health, Environment and Jobs


Late last week, the U.S. EPA released final designations of communities across the nation that have measured dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution, which harms public health and causes acid rain that impairs lakes and rivers.  17 of the newly-listed 29 non-attainment areas nationwide are in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“Installing modern pollution control equipment can reduce SO2 emissions that harm public health and our lakes and rivers, but too many power plant owners are deferring and delaying.  It’s time to move forward with clean ups to protect the air that people breathe and our overall environment,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Retrofitting coal plants with modern technologies that reduce pollution will create jobs and improve public health.”

SO2 is a pollutant released through the burning and processing of fossil fuels. According to the U.S. EPA, more than 70 percent of the nation’s SO2 pollution comes from power plants. High levels of SO2 have been linked to a range of environmental and health impacts. These include acid rain, as well as heart and lung ailments.

Ameren’s E.D. Edwards coal plant was cited by U.S. EPA as a major source of SO2 in Central Illinois. “Ameren has delayed cleaning up the E.D. Edwards plant for years. U.S. EPA’s action demonstrates how this delay hurts the plant’s neighbors,” said Andrew Armstrong, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Coming out of a smokestack, caustic sulfur dioxide gas forms sulfuric acid droplets and deadly fine particulate matter when released into to the air people breathe,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Environmental Health Director at Respiratory Health Association.  “Breathing the gas can reduce lung function and increase the risk of infection, and the products it forms can damage lung tissue and increase the number of asthma attacks, respiratory hospitalizations and premature deaths.”

In 2010, U.S. EPA revised the National Ambient Air Quality Standard which sets allowable levels for SO2 pollution based on health research. Under federal law, upon nonattainment designations, states are required to develop plans to bring the affected communities below dangerous levels “as expeditiously as practicable.”

EPA originally planned to set nonattainment areas in June 2012, but deferred that decision until this year.  The areas announced last week are based on nearby air quality monitors registering high sulfur dioxide concentrations.  For locations where air quality monitors do not exist, EPA still plans to declare areas near large sources of sulfur dioxide emissions as not meeting minimal health standards based on computer pollution dispersion modeling.  Such sources include coal plants, oil refineries and other large industrial facilities.

“This EPA announcement ends any uncertainty and sends a clear message that it is time for power plant owners to clean up and install modern technology to reduce pollution that’s putting people’s health at risk,” said Learner.