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Health Experts Warn of Mirant Dangers

Federal agency and university agree on Mirant health hazard.

Two major health reports indicate that Alexandrians living within a four-block radius of Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station are in the red zone of potential catastrophic health concerns. And, many others are in harm’s way. The reports are from the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and Pennsylvania State University's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center,

An initial review of modeling data for exposure to sulfur dioxide (SO2) at the plant conducted by ATSDR suggests a hazard to vulnerable populations from short-term impacts, according to a letter from Captain William Cibulas, Jr., Ph.D, U.S. Public Health Service, director, Division Health Assessment and Consultation, to Charles Konigsberg, Jr., M.D., health director, Alexandria Health Department.

"Acute exposures to short-term SO2 levels estimated by air dispersion modeling of Mirant air emissions under current operating conditions may be of public health concerns to exercising asthmatics and asthmatic children," ATSDR said in their report.

"You may wish to provide health messages to your community designed to educate teachers, parents, and children about the importance of recognizing and treating asthma and the hazards of certain air pollutants," Cibulas said.

However, he also noted, "Because of the uncertainty in the air dispersal model and the need to collect additional monitoring data, we cannot determine at this time if a public health hazard exists," he said.

A REPORT FROM Rebecca Bascom, M.D., professor of medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, distributed at a meeting of the Mirant Community Monitoring Group on Feb. 6, was not as hesitant to point out the effects of air pollutants allegedly being emitted by Mirant.

"I have reviewed the report entitled ‘Collection and Analysis of Particulate Fallout Samples near Coal-Fired Power Plant in Alexandria, Va.’ conducted by Eastmount Environmental Services dated Oct. 13, 2006. The report is a summary of the analyses of dust samples collected from exterior locations and inside residents' homes in the communities adjacent to and nearby the PRGS," she stated.

"The Eastmount report shows that coal soot — flyash, coal ash and coal dust — is pervasive in these communities with the amount of coal soot increasing markedly the closer a sample location is to the PRGS," Bascom stated.

"The analysis of these particulate samples confirm that coal burned by the PRGS is accumulating as settled dust both outside and inside Alexandria residences. Of the outdoor samples collected within four blocks of the PRGS, 100 percent contained identifiable coal soot and 75 percent consisted of at least five percent coal soot," she reported.

Indoor samples contained 86 percent identifiable coal soot, according to Bascom. "The analysis also confirms that coal soot in the Alexandria settled dust is common. If coal soot deposition were intermittent or uncommon, it would be washed away by the rain or removed by housecleaning or other activities and, therefore, generally undetected," she explained.

"Unfortunately, the particles landing outside and inside Alexandria residences are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total number of particulates emanating from the PRGS. Using actual weather conditions and PRGS's activity records, modeling studies have shown alarming levels of coal particulates in Alexandria's air, frequently exceeding health based particulate air pollution limits," Bascom stated.

Referring to ATSDR's findings, as presented during the Monitoring Group meeting, Konigsberg said, "There is a striking consistency between concerns expressed in Dr. Cibulas's letter and those raised by the City of Alexandria's environmental consultants."

That observation was buttressed by Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille. "This is one more piece of strong evidence that Mirant's continued operation of this outmoded, coal-fired power plant may be putting some residents at risk. The City of Alexandria will continue to pursue all available options to bring about the closure of this facility," he said.