In the eyes of Mirant Corporation, "less than five percent of the dust [circulating in Alexandria] is carbon-based soot" emanating from their Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) in North Old Town. They also maintain that the "federal agencies with expertise in public health and environmental oversight have not said any public health hazard exists" as a result of PRGS's operation.
Those corporate reactions are the result of reports released by the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and Rebecca Bascom, MD, professor of medicine, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, College of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, and circulated at the February 6 meeting of the Mirant Community Monitoring Group. Both reports addressed the potential for health hazards as the result of operations at PRGS.
Although the ATSDR report acknowledged that in could not determine if a public health hazard exists, it also suggested to Charles Konigsberg, Jr., MD, Alexandria Health Director, that he "may wish to provide health messages to your community."
Bascom's report, reviewing a report prepared in 2006 by Eastmount Environmental Services, L.L.C. on "Collection and Analysis of Particulate Fallout Samples near Coal-Fired Power Plant in Alexandria," was not as hesitant to point out the potential danger of air pollutants allegedly being emitted by the PRGS.
She categorically 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."
On Feb. 15, Mirant issued a press release addressing the ATSDR letter to Konigsberg and challenging the City's press release pertaining to that letter. In their release they cited ATSDR's hesitance to state that "a public health hazard exists." Mirant maintained "we are fully compliant with the state and federal regulators that oversee our operations."
MIRANT DID NOT address the points raised by Bascom, an outside health consultant to the City, in her report of Feb. 6 distributed at the Monitoring Group meeting. A Mirant public relations representative said they were unaware of Bascom's report and its findings.
Upon securing and analyzing a copy of the Bascom report, Felicia Joy Browder, corporate communication manager for Mirant, issued the following response:
"The Eastmount report and Bascom's interpretation basically states that dust in Alexandria consists of pollen, skin flakes, hair paper fibers, mineral grains, synthetic fibers, carbon soot and dust from vehicles such as paint chips, tire fragments and rust."
In fact, what Bascom said in her report was: "Except for the presence of coal soot, the settled dust in these Alexandria communities (neighborhoods) resembles other mid-Atlantic region settled dust samples. Such samples typically show biologies (e.g., pollen, skin flakes, hair), cellulose (paper fiber), mineral grains, synthetic fibers, and dust from vehicles such as paint chips, tire fragments and rust."
Bascom also stated, "Remove these benign components from the Alexandria samples and there is only coal soot — with the same general composition of hazardous metals as the coal itself, except for some metals which become enriched in the flyash. The primary inhalation risks in these samples are the flyash and coal ash identified in the Eastmount report."
That was the only portion of Bascom's five page report Browder chose to cite in her defense of Mirant's PRGS operations.
Browder did state that "Mirant is as interested as the community in minimizing emissions and dust, and protecting the environment. We have demonstrated our focus on these issues year after year by upgrading the Potomac River plant to meet high standards."
Through a series of plant improvements, Browder maintains that "Data shows that we have achieved significant emissions reductions with the following results:
- 55 percent reduction in NOx
- 50 percent reduction in SO2, and
- 99 plus percent of fly ash captured."
Browder said an increase or re-configuration in stack height "would address the concerns of citizens and those raised in Bascom's interpretation of the Eastmount report." The FAA has approved the stack height according to Browder.
Bascom made no reference to increasing the height of the PRGS' stacks as a solution to the alleged air pollution caused by the coal burning power plant. Rather her report concluded that the PRGS is "the source of Alexandria's pervasive, accumulating outdoor and indoor coal soot pollution."